NEWARK, N.J. — New Jersey Democrats and Republicans on Wednesday pointed to silver linings from Tuesday’s statewide legislative races, even with a number of close races still unsettled and the makeup of the Assembly still unclear.
Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy hailed the elections as a “big day” for Democrats, while Republican State Committee Chairman Doug Steinhardt said the GOP has turned back the 2018 “blue wave” that saw Democrats take control in 11 of the state’s 12 congressional races.
On the ballot Tuesday were all 80 seats of the Democrat-led Assembly, as well as a single state Senate post to fill the seat opened when Democrat Jeff Van Drew went to Congress.
Democrats control 54 seats to Republicans’ 26 in the Assembly. Democrats have 26 seats in the Senate to the GOP’s 14.
It was the first statewide legislative election since Murphy took office, and the governor spent the weekend campaigning in suburban New York in the 21st and 25th districts, where the GOP has declared victory.
The Associated Press has not called those races and a handful of others because of estimated outstanding mail-in ballots.
Murphy and Democrats also claimed victory in districts controlled by Democrats that were traditionally Republican strongholds until recently. The AP has not called those races either because of estimated outstanding ballots.
“I want to win them all. Let there be no question about that. That’s just something that’s a passion,” Murphy said. “Having said that, in many respects we as a Democratic Party had a big day yesterday. We are playing in places that ‘x’ number of years ago we were not even playing in.”
Murphy was particularly enthusiastic about a handful of local election victories in Morris and Somerset counties, traditionally Republican strongholds.
In southern New Jersey’s 1st District, Republican attorney Mike Testa declared victory with a several-thousand vote margin over Democrat Bob Andrzejczak, a former Assembly member and Iraq war veteran with close ties to Van Drew. The likelihood of victory has buoyed Republicans.
“We pushed back Phil Murphy’s blue wave and in a state like New Jersey, that gives us momentum going into 2020,” Steinhardt said in a statement.
Republicans cast the races as a referendum of sorts on Murphy.
Republican consultant Chris Russell, who worked for Testa, said the political newcomer ran as an outspoken supporter of President Donald Trump, but also as an opponent of Murphy’s calls to raise taxes, particularly the governor’s recent comment that if taxes are a top issue for voters then New Jersey’s not their state.
New Jersey has among the highest property taxes in the nation.
Murphy said Wednesday that the GOP using the quote was “politics,” and to be expected but he also pointed to slowing growth of property tax rates since he took office in 2018.
Democrats have nearly 1 million more registered voters than Republicans in New Jersey and spent nearly 3.5 times more than Republicans.
Voters also approved a $250 property tax deduction for veterans living in retirement communities in the only statewide question on the ballot.
In Jersey City, the state’s second-biggest city, voters approved restrictions on Airbnb and other short-term rental companies.