New Jersey voters, the less than 33 percent who turned out, let Republican Gov. Chris Christie know Tuesday who they want controlling the Legislature for the last two years of his term: the Democrats.
Incumbent Democrats and Republicans in the Senate and Assembly won re-election, including Democratic Senators Jim Whelan in Atlantic County, Robert Gordon in Bergen County and Linda Greenstein in Mercer and Middlesex counties who turned away strong efforts by Republicans to unseat them.
The voters also overwhelmingly approved a referendum calling for legalizing sports betting in Atlantic City casinos and New Jersey racetracks. But it is only a step toward actually seeing the day when betting will be allowed. The Legislature must approve the idea and a lawsuit must be won to overturn the federal ban on sports betting in the state. Gov. Chris Christie voted in favor of the proposal.
Voters in Princeton Borough and Princeton Township approved merging the two towns tonight, the first consolidation in New Jersey in 14 years, when tiny Pahaquarry became part of Hardwick. A panel studying the effects of merging found the two towns will save $3.2 million when the consolidation is fully implemented. They already share 13 government services.
The Democrats have retained the majority in the Senate, a position the party has held since 2004, and also in the Assembly, a position they’ve held since 2002. Not since the Republicans controlled the Assembly from 1938 to 1957 and as a party held a house longer than the 12 years Democrats will have when the coming term ends, a stint that will match their 1974 to 1985 reign.
“Tonight is a great night for New Jersey Democrats,” Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D-Middlesex), the state Democratic chairman, said. “New Jersey voters, once again, have returned Democrats to our state Legislature in overwhelming numbers.
“For weeks, our governor has been lowering expectations in the hope that he could claim a victory tonight,” Wisniewski said. “Well, like the braggart who’s ‘all hat and no cattle,’ our governor was ‘all coat and no tails.’ It's no wonder Governor Christie is going to be out of state tomorrow. He’s doesn’t want to be around to answer questions about how well Democrats did tonight. He’s going to be campaigning for Governor Romney in New Hampshire.
“I have a message for Governor Christie – I hope you do for Mitt Romney what you’ve done for New Jersey Republicans,” Wisniewski said.
The Democratic chairman added that on Wednesday, “We begin the work of re-electing President Obama, re-electing our great Senator Bob Menendez, and electing Democrats to Congress. And we sharpen our skills in their campaigns so that in two years, we can elect a Democrat as governor to join our great Democratic legislative team in Trenton.”
The governor‘s office did not immediately issue a comment on the election outcome.
Whelan defeated Republican Assemblyman Vince Polistina to win an election that was the most expensive in the state for both sides. The candidates raised over $3.8 million and spent at least $3.2 million.
"I said throughout this, 'nobody feel bad for me,'“ Polistina said as he conceded. “Nobody made me do it. I enjoyed my service in Trenton. I thank you all for the honor of serving in Trenton.''
The district’s Republican Assembly candidates, incumbent John Amodeo and attorney Chris Brown won the lower house seats.
Gordon withstood a challenge from Republican Bergen County Freeholder Director John Driscoll Jr.
"I said it all along: Somebody's going to win and someone's going to lose,” Driscoll said. “It happens. This will probably be one of the shortest speeches I've ever made ... We had a great ride. I want to thank the governor for all his help."
The district’s Democratic Assembly candidates, incumbent Connie Wagner and Maywood Mayor Timothy Eustace won the lower house seats.
Greenstein was challenged by Republican Richard Kanka, the father of murdered child Megan Kanka and a Hamilton School Board member. Incumbent Democrats Wayne DeAngelo and Dan Benson were re-elected with her. It will be Greenstein's first full term as a senator.