Critical NJ Race in Toss-Up Mode

By Jim Ellis

Navy veteran and attorney, Mikie Sherrill

Navy veteran and attorney, Mikie Sherrill (D) | Photo from campaign ad

June 28, 2018 — Democrats have high hopes of converting a northern New Jersey seat that has only elected Republicans during the past 34 years, and a new Monmouth University poll (June 22-25; 406 NJ-11 registered voters) projects a toss-up 11th District contest. The two major party nominees, chosen in early June, are state Assemblyman Jay Webber (R-Morristown) and attorney and Navy veteran Mikie Sherrill (D).

Monmouth polling is experimenting with new sampling methods that involve three different turnout projection models. Their full sample, or “potential” voter model is one that tests only people who have voted in at least one election since 2010 or who are newly registered voters. The second model is what they term a “standard midterm” sample, and the third is in place to monitor a “Democratic surge,” if such were to develop.

The latter phrase has been used frequently in polling and in political commentaries, but there is little evidence of a substantial increase in Democratic primary voting from most states. At this point, national turnout models based solely upon 2018 primary voter turnout suggest a pattern that is closely aligned with a typical midterm performance. So far, more Democrats have been voting in states that normally vote Democratic, and more Republicans are participating in places where GOP candidates dominate.

New Jersey state Assemblyman Jay Webber (R) | Photo from campaign ad

New Jersey state Assemblyman Jay Webber (R) | Photo from campaign ad

According to the full sample model, Democrat Sherrill leads Republican Webber by a scant 40-38 percent. Under the typical midterm model, the Democratic advantage increases to four points, 44-40 percent, but is still within the polling margin of error. Under their potential “Democratic surge” model, which may well prove illusionary when actual votes are counted, Sherrill increases her advantage to 45-39 percent.

The sample is weighted, but the draw does include more Independent voters (plus-three percent) than the raw percentage district total, and is four points less Democratic. But, the weighting formula is supposed to neutralize such discrepancies.

Sherrill is using her opposition to President Trump as the basis for entering the race. Some data in the poll suggests that such may not be a wise strategy, while another question seems to support her noted theme. Among the sample as a whole, President Trump’s job approval is 47:49 percent favorable to unfavorable, which is actually a relatively strong number for the current incumbent.

But, the number of self-identified Democrats saying they “have a lot of interest” in the coming election (67 percent), is much greater than the pool of Republicans that respond similarly (48 percent). On the other hand, Republican Party favorability, while upside-down at 35:46 percent favorable to unfavorable, is viewed better than the Democratic Party, which scores 30:44 percent.

Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-Morristown), a 12-term GOP incumbent and chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, is retiring this year. The 11th District is comprised of parts of four counties: Morris, Essex, Passaic, and Sussex, and houses the communities of Morristown, Livingston, Randolph, Denville, and Jefferson.

The electorate here barely supported President Trump in 2016 (49-48 percent), while both Mitt Romney and John McCain carried the district with a six-point margin in 2012 and 2008, respectively. Rep. Frelinghuysen averaged 65.3 percent of the vote in his 12 elections. According to the racial background chart for citizen voting age population, 80.0 percent are non-Hispanic White, 7.8 percent Latino, 7.5 percent Asian, and 3.8 percent black or African American.

Through the May 16 pre-primary filing period in New Jersey, Sherrill had raised a whopping $2.8 million, and all but $1,800 from individual donors. In contrast, Assemblyman Webber had gathered only $401,000 over a similar period of time.

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