By Jim Ellis
June 7, 2017 — Voters cast their ballots in the 2017-18 election cycle’s first regular primary contest last night and the local political prognosticators fared well.
As predicted, former US ambassador to Germany and Goldman Sachs executive Phil Murphy dominated the Democratic gubernatorial primary, scoring a 48-22-22 percent victory over ex-treasury official Jim Johnson and state Assemblyman John Wisniewski, respectively. Three other minor candidates combined to garner eight percent of the Democratic votes.
On the Republican side, Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno’s winning margin was equivalent to her Democratic counterpart’s. She recorded a 47-31-10 percent vote to capture the GOP nomination against state Assemblyman Jack Ciatarelli and engineer Hirsh Singh, respectively. Two minor candidates failed to reach double-digits.
The total primary turnout reached only 13 percent of the registered voter total; some 733,757 individuals of a vote base exceeding 5.6 million. Two-thirds of those participating voted in the Democratic primary. Party registration figures yield the Democrats a 36-21 percent margin over Republicans with non-affiliated voters numbering 42 percent. Under New Jersey election statutes, party registrants must vote in their own primaries, while non-affiliated voters can choose where to cast their ballot.
Interestingly, though the polls were correct in predicting easy wins for Murphy and Guadagno, neither contender captured an absolute majority in their respective primary. In fact, if New Jersey had a run-off law, both of last night’s intra-party victors would be rather surprisingly headed to secondary run-off elections.
Murphy now begins the general election as a heavy favorite against Lt. Gov. Guadagno. Normal New Jersey voting patterns, generally heavy Democratic, and outgoing Gov. Chris Christie’s (R) strong unpopularity likely erects too many obstacles for Guadagno to overcome. Expect the Democrats to convert this governor’s mansion.
Another of the five special congressional elections wrapped up last night, as state Assemblyman Jimmy Gomez (D-Los Angeles) successfully captured the seat that former Rep. Xavier Becerra (D) vacated to become California attorney general.
With virtually the entire Democratic establishment lined up behind him, Gomez scored a 60-40 percent win against former Los Angeles City Planning Commissioner Robert Lee Ahn, who is also a Democrat.
Largely due to more than a half-million dollar influx from candidate Ahn to his own campaign, spending for the race was roughly even. Little in the way of outside support was present because the two candidates are both Democrats so the party was assured of keeping the heavily Hispanic downtown Los Angeles district regardless of which individual prevailed.
Turnout for last night’s contest was just 32,890 voters, only 11 percent of the registered voter total, and about 10,000 less than the number participating in the April 4 jungle primary election. Over half of the ballots were cast through the early voting process.
The turnout pales in comparison to what we saw in the May 25 Montana at-large primary, for example, when more than 377,000 voters cast their ballots, a participation rate that even exceeded the 2014 regular mid-term election total.
With the Democrats’ victory last night, the House partisan division count now stands at 239R-194D, with the two vacancies remaining in Georgia and South Carolina. Both of those special elections will be decided on June 20.