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Assembly Republicans target 16 incumbent Democrats

njdistrictsm060209_optBY TOM HESTER SR.
NEWJERSEYNEWSROOM.COM

And they're off and running.

With the primary election a mere formality in all by one case, the race for control of the state Assembly is underway with Republicans planning to attempt to tie their rivals to what they see as Gov. Jon Corzine's poor fiscal policies and the Democrats vowing to link their campaigns with his re-election bid as the governor who saved New Jersey from even worse economic nightmares.

While they criticize Corzine, Republicans will be attempting to unseat Democratic legislators in eight districts in Bergen, Passaic, Essex, Middlesex, Mercer, Cape May, Atlantic, Cumberland, Camden and Gloucester counties. Democrats want to unseat Republicans in Atlantic County but mainly intend to protect the seats they control.

Democrats control the Assembly 48-32, a margin that means the Republicans need to win nine additional seats to regain control for the first time since 2000.

"If the people nominated tonight really want to win, they are going to have to put their heart and souls into it and get out and speak with the people about what they really stand for,'' Assembly Minority Leader Alex DeCroce (R-Morris) said Tuesday.

"The legislative races are local races in every one of the 40 districts,'' said Assembly Speaker Joseph Roberts (D-Camden). "I see the Democrats having a very good year. The first challenge is to retain the seats we have.''

As a sidelight to a five-month campaign that will end on Election Day, Nov. 3, DeCroce said Republican leaders are considering challenging the constitutionality of the map that lays out the shape of the 40 legislative districts. DeCroce said a court ruling found the North Carolina legislative map unconstitutional because it split a large urban area into three districts instead of two. Newark has three districts, all Democratic controlled. DeCroce said while it is unlikely a court challenge would effect the current race, it could play a role in the 2011 legislative election.

The Republicans' prime targets are Democratic Assembly members Matthew Milam and Nelson Albano in the predominantly Republican 1st District in Cape May, Atlantic and Cumberland counties. But DeCroce said his party also intends to target Democratic incumbents Joan Voss and Concetta Wagner in the 38th District in Bergen and Passaic, Valerie Vainieri-Huttle and Gordon Johnson in the 37th District in Bergen and Gary Schaer and Fred Scalera in the 36th District in Bergen, Passaic and Essex.

The Republicans also plan to go after Democrats Upendra Chivukula and Joseph Egan in the 17th District in Middlesex and Somerset, Linda Greenstein and Wayne DeAngelo in the 14th District in Mercer and Middlesex, Paul Moriarty and Sandra Love in the 4th District in Camden and Gloucester, and Celeste Riley and John Burzichelli in the 3rd District.in Gloucester and Cumberland.

Roberts said the Democrats are targeting Republican incumbents Vincent Polistina and John Amodeo iin the 2nd District in Atlantic County where popular Democrat Jim Whelan is the district's Democratic senator.

DeCroce said he foresees no danger in Republican candidates linking their campaigns to GOP gubernatorial hopeful Chris Christie. "He has a pretty good record where he comes from,'' DeCroce said, referring to Christie's role as a corruption-busting U.S. attorney for New Jersey.

"For the most part, Democratic candidates will proudly be associated with the governor's policies,'' said Roberts. He indicated Milan and Albano may have to keep Corzine at arm's length in the Republican 1st District.

Both sides are scrambling to raise money.

Roberts is organizing a fund-raiser for June 17 at the Forsgate Country Club in Monroe, Middlesex County, and the revenue will go toward protecting districts where Republicans are a threat. "People who don't have a serious challenge should expect to fend for themselves,'' he said.

According to financial reports filed May 20 with the state Election Law Enforcement Commission, Milan and Albano, for example, have raised $81,915 and Burzichelli and Riley have raised $217,542. Polistina and Amodeo have raised $1.4 million. Roberts has raised $1.1 million and DeCroce $52,480.

In the 2007 Assembly election, Democrats and Republicans raised a record $13.9 million and spent a record $11.8 million. By comparison, in the 1985 Assembly election, the parties raised $1 million and spent $582,913.

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