Voters send message to Democrats as state Republicans pick up 11 seats in state Legislature
The Republican party is poised to pick up eight seats in the state Assembly and three seats in the state Senate.
Some are calling it a Republican renaissance in New Jersey after an unexpectedly strong showing for GOP candidates up and down the ballot in Tuesday’s election. However, Democrats will still hold the majority in both houses.
“They didn’t stand up to the governor and that cost folks,” says Republican state Sen. Declan O’Scanlon. “I think that cost Democrats in the Legislature dearly.”
Republicans may have lost the governorship in a very close race between Gov. Phil Murphy and Jack Ciattarelli. But Republicans at the State House are celebrating their good fortune.
“We can always count on our friends on the other side of the aisle to overstep their bounds, to overplay their hands,” O’Scanlon says.
Republicans in the State House say that they believe their party’s largest gain in decades is due to a backlash to state government mandates promoted by Murphy and Democrats during the pandemic.
“People are smart. They know how to take care of themselves. They don’t need to be told you have to wear a mask, or you have to take a vaccine,” says Assembly Minority Leader John DiMaio.
Democrats at the State House were in a reflective mood on Thursday.
“Clearly we didn't have the night we had hoped for. Right? We lost some seats. The governor's race was much tighter than any of us expected,” says Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin. “We recognize that there was a message from voters. We will look at that in terms of our agenda.”
Coughlin was safely reelected on Tuesday. But his state Senate counterpart was not so fortunate.
The Associated Press says state Senate President Steve Sweeney was defeated by Republican Edward Durr – a political newcomer. Sweeney has not yet conceded.
“What can we do better? I think that’s the analysis that anybody ought to go through. What can we do better,” Coughlin says. “We need to probably listen more and make sure we have an agenda that people understand or is being done in their best interests.”
Coughlin says he'll focus on issues like childcare and mental health before the new legislators are sworn in this January. When that happens, the new leader of the Republicans in the Assembly has a message for Democrats.
“We’re going to be a little more assertive as a caucus,” says DiMaio. “We're going to hold their feet to the fire and let them understand that we're there to represent the people of the state of New Jersey and their freedom.”
State Senate Republicans on Thursday elected state Sen. Steve Oroho as the new minority leader. He replaces outgoing state Sen. Tom Kean Sr., who is leaving the state Senate to run for Congress.