New Jersey Temperature Check: 10/21

Last week, we adjusted our legislative ratings in Virginia to reflect the current political environment. With the latest fundraising reports available, we’re now doing the same for New Jersey’s State Senate and Assembly. While a lot has changed since our first update in February, Democrats ultimately remain comfortable favorites to retain both chambers.

Throughout this election cycle, state Republicans have argued that they have a serious chance to win control of the legislature (or at least the Senate) for the first time in two decades. Their argument is as follows: Jack Ciattarelli’s coattails helped underfunded GOP Senate candidates run closer than expected races in 2021, so those same districts should be within reach this time around if Republican candidates get more resources.

Assuming Republicans hold all of their seats and flip back LD-12, they would need to win five more seats from the Democrats to get a 21-seat Senate majority. Of those five, only two (LD-04 & LD-11) backed Ciattarelli two years ago; the other three (LD-14, LD-16, LD-38) voted for the Democrat. 

If Ciattarelli himself couldn’t win those three seats in 2021, when the political environment strongly benefited the GOP, it’s hard to see Republican Senate candidates winning them next month. At this point, the most likely “best outcome” for Senate Republicans would be holding all of their seats, retaking LD-12, and flipping the open LD-04. 

Following our ratings changes, Democrats lead Republicans 24-16 in the Senate and 48-32 in the Assembly. That would give Senate Republicans LD-12, putting them back to where they were right after 2021. Assembly Democrats, meanwhile, would have a net gain of 2 after defeating both Republican incumbents in LD-11.

Keep in mind that New Jersey’s Senate and Assembly district boundaries are the same, so we discuss ratings changes for both chambers under headers for individual legislative districts. Seats are referred to using the terms AD- and SD- in graphics only for explanatory purposes.

LD-03 (Senate, Assembly) Likely R to Leans R

In LD-03, South Jersey Democrats have put up a monumental effort to flip back a seat that was once safely in their column. Former Assemblyman John Burzichelli has outraised Senator Ed Durr in his bid to avenge ex-Senate President Steve Sweeney, who lost in an upset in 2021. The story is similar for Democrats David Bailey and Heather Simmons, who are challenging Republicans Bethanne McCarthy Patrick and Tom Tedesco for both Assembly seats.

Republican legislative candidates won here in 2021 because Ciattarelli carried the district by a whopping 16-point margin, and they won’t have that top of the ticket boost this time around. The district also isn’t as Republican as many casual observers might think. It only voted for Trump by 3 points in 2020 and actually shifted left between the last two presidential elections.

The Republican slate is still favored to hold the Senate and Assembly seats next month, but we feel less confident than we did in February and are therefore moving LD-03 to Leans Republican.

LD-04 (Senate) Tossup to Leans D

LD-04 is widely considered to be the Republicans’ best Senate target this cycle, but Democrats seem set to hold on there despite tenured incumbent Fred Madden’s retirement. This Biden +7 district voted for Ciattarelli by 5.5 points in 2021, but GOP nominee Chris DelBorello doesn’t seem to be holding his own against Assemblyman Paul Moriarty. So far, he’s been comfortably outspent by his Democratic challenger.

This seat is also bluer than LD-03, a seat with comparable demographics. With both Assembly seats already rated Leans Democratic, we’re prepared to move the open Senate seat out of the Tossup column too.

LD-11 (Senate) Leans D to Likely D, (Assembly) Tossup to Leans D (flip)

LD-11, located in Monmouth County, is bluer than LD-04 but also voted for Ciattarelli in 2021. Unlike its counterpart, though, this district is clearly trending Democratic. Senator Vin Gopal, who has raised more than $1 million this cycle and remains one of the strongest up-and-coming Democrats in the state, appears on track to defeat Republican businessman Steve Dnistrian. Gopal was strong enough to outrun Phil Murphy in 2021, so his race belongs at Likely Democratic this cycle.

Democrats are also favored to flip back both of the LD-11 Assembly seats that they lost in 2021. Republicans Marilyn Piperno and Kim Eulner both barely won last cycle, with Republicans underperforming Ciattarelli in the district by combined vote. This year, Democrats LuAnne Peterpaul and Margie Donlon are outraising both incumbents and, if district partisanship is any indication, seem well positioned to beat them.

LD-16 (Senate, Assembly) (Leans D to Safe D)

LD-16 may be more Republican down ballot like LD-21, but it is a bluer seat by presidential partisanship and did not vote for Ciattarelli in 2021. On top of that, there is no formidable slate of moderate Republican incumbents running here like that lead by Jon Bramnick in LD-21. 

In fact, it is Democrats who have the stronger set of candidates here. Senator Andrew Zwicker overperformed the top of the ticket in 2021 and is currently outpacing former Congressman Mike Pappas in terms of funds raised. Democrats also have a top-tier Assembly slate in Roy Freiman and ex-Malinowski district director Mitchelle Druliss. Ultimately, LD-16 is too blue for Republicans to have a serious shot at victory this year, so we’re comfortable with a Safe Democratic rating across the board.

LD-25 (Senate) (Safe Republican to Likely Republican)

In LD-25, Senate Minority Leader Tony Bucco remains a commanding favorite for reelection against challenger Christine Clarke, who has raised no money. Bucco won a special election to the bluer old version of LD-25 in the 2020 general election. Still, we’re putting his Biden +6 district at Likely Republican out of an abundance of caution. Both Assembly seats are already in the same category.

LD-30 (Assembly) (Seat 2 – Safe to Likely Republican)

LD-30 is a safe Republican seat on paper, but Democratic assembly candidate Avi Schnall has run a serious campaign and been a competitive fundraiser. If bloc voting plays a significant role in next month’s election, Schnall’s connections to Lakewood’s Orthodox Jewish community could get him elected to the Assembly. While this is unlikely given the district’s partisanship, we’re moving one of LD-30’s two Assembly seats to Likely Republican to acknowledge the outside possibility of an upset.

LD-39 (Senate, Assembly) (Safe Republican to Likely Republican)

We’re also moving LD-39 to Likely Republican for the same reasons that LD-25 has been moved onto the board. Democrats are not favored to win Senate or Assembly races in either seat, as they have not put serious effort into candidate recruitment and fundraising, but both seats are bluer than LD-26 and LD-40. They belong on the edge of the board based on our current read of the political environment, as races in both could theoretically end up being closer than expected.

If Republicans were to somehow flip the Senate, it would be an incredible feat. There are simply too many variables that would have to align properly for it to be a probable outcome, even if the consensus read on the political environment in New Jersey is similarly off-the-mark as it was in 2021. In fact, the environment would have to be much redder than it was last time around for targets like LD-14 and LD-16 to change hands. 

My name is Harrison Lavelle and I am a political analyst studying political science and international studies at the College of New Jersey. As a co-founder and partner at Split Ticket, I coordinate our House coverage. I write about a variety of electoral topics and produce political maps. Besides elections, my hobbies include music, history, language, aviation, and fitness.

Contact me at @HWLavelleMaps or