A commercial truck driver from South Jersey has defeated the state's longest-serving Senate president in a long-shot, upset victory, the Associated Press projected Thursday.
Republican challenger Edward Durr, a commercial truck driver from Gloucester County, defeated Democratic Senate President Steve Sweeney by more than 2,200 votes in New Jersey's 3rd District.
The loss by one of New Jersey’s most powerful politicians will result in upheaval of political power in the state, forcing the Senate to find a new president. Sweeney has been the chamber’s leader since 2010.
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Just four years ago, he won reelection in what at the time may have been the most expensive legislative race in American history.
Sweeney's loss came on the same election as his fellow Democrat, Gov. Phil Murphy, nearly lost a re-election that polls and political experts in the Garden State long had predicted as an easy victory. It was anything but: Murphy was finally projected as winner on Wednesday evening when he was up by only 19,000 votes over his Republican challenger out of more than 2.3 million ballots cast.
Durr said he entered the race after being denied a concealed carry permit despite having a clean record.
A post-election campaign finance report filed after this story published shows a slate of three local candidates, including Durr, spent a little over $2,300 in the past year. A previous finance report had shown only $153 spent by the candidates.
“Well, I’m a numbers guy and I’ve looked at the numbers over the years,” Durr said in an August interview with conservative commentator Elizabeth Nader. “We have a district that is 150,000 voters. Senator Sweeney has never broken 32,000 votes ... and so I felt if he can’t even get half the district, that means there’s numbers out there to be taken, and you just have to get people to come out and vote. I believe if they come out and vote, we could win,” Durr said.
Durr promises lower property taxes and the creation of a “friendly business environment.” When it comes to the Second Amendment, he states on his website that "any law or regulation by a state is a violation."
He also believes that "abortion is wrong and should be stopped" but suggests that so-called heartbeat bills – which restrict abortions to early on in a pregnancy, often before someone knows they're pregnant – offer "a path to a compromise" with Democrats.
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"Not everybody has to have a lot of money to run. All they have to do is have a heart for the people, and he’s got a heart for the working people," his mother, Gloria Durr, told NBC10 Wednesday. She also shared that her husband of 63 years, Edward Durr Sr., died just two weeks ago and that her son, despite being on the campaign trail, "was right there by his dad's side throughout."
Sweeney has held the District 3 seat since 2004. It encompasses parts of Cumberland and Gloucester counties, as well as all of Salem County.
A loss also raises questions about the political power of South Jersey Democratic boss George Norcross, who has been aligned with Sweeney for decades.
Republicans seem likely to take several seats in addition to Sweeney’s in an unexpected election day that also saw Gov. Phil Murphy contesting his seat in a closer-than-expected race, which NBC News projected to go his way late Wednesday.
NBC10 reached out by phone to Sweeney's office Wednesday. He has not responded or given a public statement.