New NJ Senate Candidate May Change Things

NJ State Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver

NJ State Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver

The New Jersey Senate special election candidates submitted their ballot qualification petition signatures to the state’s Division of Elections, and one of the individuals filing was a bit of a surprise.

State Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver (D-East Orange) began publicly mulling entering the race just over the weekend, and yesterday she did just that. As the sitting leader of one of the state’s two legislative chambers, and in a situation where everyone knows she will continue in this position even if losing the Senate race, Oliver should be able to raise enough money to compete.

If she can successfully mount a challenge, Speaker Oliver has the potential of hurting Newark Mayor Cory Booker. As the second African-American candidate in the race, Oliver cutting into what should be a solid base vote for Booker could bring all of the Democratic candidates into contention.

Also filing signature petitions yesterday, as expected, were representatives Frank Pallone (D-NJ-6) and Rush Holt (D-NJ-12). One thousand valid signatures from registered voters are required. Holt, in fact, appeared in person at the Division of Elections office in Trenton to deliver petitions containing more than 3,000 signatures.

Republicans Steve Lonegan, the former mayor of Bogota, NJ, and physician Alieta Eck also filed, but neither is expected to be major competition for the eventual Democratic nominee. Therefore, the Aug. 13 Democratic primary vote will effectively elect the next US senator.

Two polls were quickly put into the field, but too quickly to accurately project what will happen. Both Quinnipiac University (June 7-9) and Rutgers-Eagleton (June 3-9) surveyed the Democratic primary voters but with sample sizes of only 306 and 364, respectively. These sampling universes are much too small to accurately reflect a large electorate, which is the case for the New Jersey Democrats and Independents who are eligible to vote in this contest.

The polling methodology aside, both surveys give Mayor Booker a commanding lead. Neither tested Oliver. Booker scored 53 and 55 percent according to the Q-Poll and Rutgers-Eagleton, respectively. Reps. Pallone and Holt were in the 9-10 percent range on both polls.

Remembering that the election is placed in the middle of August and primaries always produce fewer voters than special general elections, the Aug. 13 participation factor will likely be extremely low. Considering that all of the other candidates have some elected base and that Pallone, for example, possesses more than $4 million in his campaign account means that the other candidates will be heard from before this race is over.

There is no doubt that Mayor Booker is the clear leader in the early going, but it is also evident that all of the other candidates will be looking to take him down. Normally big city mayors don’t fare well in statewide contests, so it will be interesting to see if his commanding lead in these first two polls will hold up when the campaigns begin to gel.

Though the race has a short cycle, it’s far from over. Much more to come.

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