The strikes and countermoves which can be made in 2022 will present us with some clues about what’s going to occur in 2023.  Sure, if Donald Norcross takes on Jeff Van Drew in 2022, win or lose, he can be well-positioned to tackle Bob Menendez in 2024 or Sheila Oliver in 2025.  Or he might do each.  Or his run in opposition to Menendez in 2024 might present a basis for another person, like Senate President Steve Sweeney, to run in opposition to Oliver.  Or George Norcross might resolve that his energy may be finest utilized with Sweeney remaining in his Senate President place and another person, presumably his brother, as Governor.

This choice may even be influenced by whether or not Oliver is working for her first time period because the Lt. Governor or for her first full time period as Governor.  The identification politics optics of working a white man in opposition to New Jersey’s first African-American and first African-American feminine gubernatorial candidate can be powerful sufficient.  If she is New Jersey’s first African-American Governor and first African-American feminine Governor, will probably be even tougher.  The latter state of affairs might drive George Norcross to show to both United States Senator Cory Booker, who might need to add some government expertise to his resume previous to his subsequent (2028 or 2032, Dwayne Johnson’s “Younger Rock” Presidential fantasies, co-starring Booker’s associate, Rosario Dawson, however) Presidential run, or State Senator Troy Singleton.

Nonetheless, properly earlier than these selections are made, a brand new legislative district map should be drawn and the way it’s drawn will inform us way more about how well-positioned the chess items belonging to George Norcross can be going into 2024 and 2025.  As talked about beforehand, that is what the NJDSC Chairman battle between John Currie and Leroy Jones was all about.  One might argue that Norcross misplaced that battle, as a result of he was not in a position to personally substitute Currie with Jones, however as a result of the deal that allowed Currie to stay within the place till later this 12 months and get replaced by Jones distributed the legislative redistricting fee appointments amongst quite a few individuals, together with Norcross ally, Sweeney, I might name it a draw, particularly once we see the ultimate end result of the legislative redistricting course of.

We must also do not forget that Norcross et al are usually not enjoying this sport by themselves.  They’ve an opponent in Oliver and the North Jersey political machine bosses who can be supporting her.  Her main objective, along with the obvious, election or re-election in 2025, is having a Democratic majority within the state legislature that’s aligned along with her and her agenda.

Since Sweeney’s coup in 2009, it may very well be argued that the previous Republican Governor, Chris Christie, had a greater ally in Sweeney and the remainder of the Democratic legislative management than the present Democratic Governor.  Having already spent a big period of time beneath the thumb of Norcross and Sweeney when she was Meeting Speaker, Oliver is most definitely not going to need to repeat that energy dynamic if she is lucky sufficient to develop into Governor, which was once referred to as essentially the most highly effective state chief executives within the nation earlier than Murphy allowed it to develop into as debilitated as he has.

Assuming for a second that the established order stays intact going into 2023 and Johnson defeats Vainieri-Huttle in LD37 this 12 months, Sweeney would most definitely have the assist of 15 Democratic State Senators in LD3, LD4, LD5, LD6, LD7, LD8, LD11, LD14, LD17, LD18, LD19, LD22, LD31, LD36, and LD38.  10 Democratic State Senators in LD15, LD20, LD27, LD28, LD29, LD32, LD33, LD34, LD35, and LD37 might in all probability be satisfied to vote for a challenger if Murphy used the complete weight of his workplace on behalf of that individual.  This quantity may very well be bumped as much as 11 if Andrew Zwicker wins in LD16 this 12 months.

Linda Greenstein, as at all times, is a wildcard.  So long as present alliances maintain and Coughlin stays Meeting Speaker, I feel that she would proceed to vote for Sweeney, however it’s not a lock by any stretch of the creativeness.

That calculus might change considerably based mostly on the end result of the 2003 state legislative elections, particularly if it seems probably that Murphy won’t serve his whole second time period and can go the torch to Oliver in early 2025 if President Joe Biden or Vice President Kamala Harris are elected or re-elected in 2024.  LD36 State Senator Paul Sarlo has been a staunch Sweeney ally for the reason that 2009 coup and is unlikely to flip on him, however LD38 State Senator Joseph Lagana can be far much less agency in his assist.

Because of this the objective of the Democratic members of the legislative redistricting fee goes to be to aggressively improve the variety of Democratic State Senators sworn into workplace in January 2024, as a result of that can most definitely decide the steadiness of energy between Murphy/Oliver and the North and Norcross/Sweeney and the South.  Up to now, incumbency safety has been the highest precedence.  Nonetheless, going ahead, the chance/reward ratio has very clearly modified, which ought to produce considerably extra aggressive districts than previously.  Contemplating how vital the present Democratic majority is in a state the place Democrats are able to profitable statewide by double digits, the Republican members of the legislative redistricting fee are in all probability going to should be simply as aggressive, if no more so, if they’ll need to have any probability of regaining the legislative majorities that they loved within the 90s beneath Governor Christie Todd Whitman.

The primary main transfer that Norcross and Sweeney are going to make is to get one in every of their pawns, fellow Constructing and Development Tradesman, Assemblyman Wayne DeAngelo, throughout the chessboard and switch him right into a State Senator.  This might occur very simply if State Senator Linda Greenstein defeats Congressman Chris Smith in CD4 and Assemblyman Dan Benson ascends to the Congress as properly in CD12.  DeAngelo would then develop into the apparent successor.  Or it might occur with extra problem if DeAngelo’s Hamilton and Greenstein’s Plainsboro stay in the identical district and he has to problem her to have the ability to transfer up from the Meeting to the Senate.

Identification politics would make it powerful to place DeAngelo in the identical district as State Senator Shirley Turner.  Nonetheless, Turner lives in Lawrence, not Trenton, so it might not be tough to construct a district for DeAngelo that features Hamilton and Trenton, however not Lawrence.  A brand new LD12 might encompass Hamilton and Trenton in Mercer County, Bordentown, Chesterfield, New Hanover, and North Hanover in Burlington County, and Plumstead in Ocean County.

The brand new LD14, which might most definitely be defended in 2003 by each Greenstein and Republican State Senator Samuel Thompson, would encompass East Windsor in Mercer County, Plainsboro, Cranbury, Monroe, Jamesburg, and Previous Bridge in Middlesex County, and Manalapan in Monmouth County and develop into one of the vital aggressive districts within the state.  Since Greenstein has an extended historical past of success in aggressive districts and has by no means seemed to be inextricably linked with both the Murphy or Norcross/Sweeney axes of energy except for her allegiance to the Middlesex County Democratic Group and its present alliance with Norcross and Sweeney by way of Meeting Speaker Craig Coughlin, she is undoubtedly essentially the most expendable Democrat within the State Senate, whereas on the identical time, the Democrat who’s finest positioned to assist broaden that majority.

If Greenstein beats Smith in CD4, it’s anyone’s guess who will run within the main election to attempt to tackle Thompson.  Regardless that East Windsor is the one Mercer County city in a principally Middlesex County district, Middlesex County Democratic Group Chair, Kevin McCabe, might attempt to keep away from a divisive main election by providing the road to the city’s Mayor and Mercer County Democratic Group Chair, Janice Mironov.

There would nonetheless be two Meeting seats on this district that would go to candidates from Middlesex County, with Previous Bridge, the district’s most populated and purple city virtually definitely getting one in every of them.  The district’s vital Asian inhabitants might produce an Meeting candidate from that neighborhood, most definitely from Plainsboro.  Whereas it’s probably that insurgents in different components of Middlesex County will attempt to unfold their warfare to the cities on this new LD14, it stays to be seen if they are going to be profitable in recruiting a vital mass of candidates for these workplaces in addition to native elected and political workplaces.

The brand new LD15, which might proceed to be defended by Turner, would encompass East Amwell, West Amwell, and Lambertville in Hunterdon County, Hopewell, Ewing, Lawrence, West Windsor, and Robbinsville in Mercer County, Allentown, Higher Freehold, and Millstone in Monmouth County, and Jackson in Ocean County.  No, this district isn’t almost as protected because the district that Turner has develop into accustomed to representing, however it’s nonetheless greater than Democratic-leaning sufficient for her to proceed to have the ability to symbolize it and win re-election for so long as she needs.

Nonetheless, if Turner doesn’t need to run for re-election in a aggressive district, there can be an extended listing of individuals with loyalties to both Norcross or Murphy who would leap on the alternative to run in a main election for this State Senate seat.  This might make this district a key battleground for management of the legislature.

For the previous few cycles, LD21 has been one in every of Union County Democratic Group Chairman and State Senator Nick Scutari’s prime takeover targets, however whereas Democrats have come near profitable, time and time once more they’ve failed.  Will that change this 12 months now that Jon Bramnick and never Tom Kean Jr. can be defending the State Senate seat?

It’s unclear, as a result of when Bramnick and Nancy Munoz survived their Democratic problem in 2019, it was a a lot decrease turnout cycle with out the advantage of a statewide race, driving turnout.  Kean Jr. was on the poll in 2017.  2021 would be the true check of Bramnick’s potential to maintain this district in Republican arms.

Whatever the end result this 12 months, there’s a lot that may be accomplished to make this district extra Democratic with out having a big affect on neighboring Democratic districts.  By swapping Cranford and Mountainside in Union County and Watchung in Somerset County for Dunellen and Middlesex in Middlesex County and North Plainfield in Somerset County between LD21 and LD22, Scutari’s district, LD21 turns into marginally extra Democratic and LD22 turns into marginally much less Democratic, however to not a level that can affect the end result of Scutari’s re-election.  Nonetheless, it might mark the top of Bramnick’s time within the legislature.

If that isn’t dramatic sufficient, much more drama might come from a contested main election in a brand new LD21.  Even when Andrew Zwicker is ready to defeat the aforementioned former Congressman Mike Pappas within the LD16 State Senate race this 12 months, that will not give Somerset County Democratic Group Chairwoman and NJDSC Vice-Chairwoman Peg Schaffer the State Senate seat that she covets for her county.  She ceded this seat to Middlesex County, as a result of she knew that Zwicker had seniority over Assemblyman Roy Frieman.

Would she be keen to cede LD21 to Union County?  She may not have a alternative.  Her NJDSC Vice-Chairwoman’s seat may very well be on the road.  If there’s going to be a civil warfare within the Democratic Celebration between North Jersey and South Jersey, she goes to have to select a facet and so long as Leroy Jones is the Chairman, my guess is that she may have no alternative, however to facet with him, which implies that she is going to in all probability should battle Scutari over these seats.

If North Plainfield is a part of a brand new LD21, that’s the place Schaffer will discover her State Senate candidate.  She may have the ability to pair that individual with Meeting candidates from the Joe Cryan faction of the Union County Democrats, assuming for a second that he and Scutari are nonetheless within the midst of their very own civil warfare.  I can solely assume that they are going to be since Union County would be the final battleground county when this Recreation of Thrones reaches its climax in 2025.

Traditionally, North Jersey has at all times had the sting over South Jersey, as a result of it additionally had vital Central Jersey counties, Middlesex and Union, on its facet.  Except one thing occurs between Coughlin and Sweeney between now and 2025, forcing Norcross to discard Coughlin the best way that he discarded Sheila Oliver, Vincent Prieto, and his alliances with Essex and Hudson respectively previously, Middlesex seems to be firmly in his pocket.  The identical additionally seems to be true for Union so long as Scutari is ready to retail his management over the county celebration group.

This provides an additional layer of drama to what’s more likely to be an already extremely dramatic election cycle.  Earlier this 12 months, the Union County Democratic Group determined to postpone its County Committee elections two years, holding them in 2023 as an alternative of 2021.  Middlesex County made the identical choice.  What’s baffling about these selections is that usually savvy operatives like Kevin McCabe and Nick Scutari put their county committee seats up for grabs in a a lot much less predictable and far decrease turnout election cycle with out the advantage of a statewide candidate to drive turnout and anchor the celebration line.

If North Jersey needs to retain its historic benefit over South Jersey in 2025, they should recruit candidates for state, county, and native elected and political workplace all through Middlesex County and Union County and win these battles in 2023.  It was most definitely an unforced error on the components of McCabe and Scutari to postpone the County Committee elections once they would have been in a position to win them simply this 12 months.

It additionally stays to be seen if Scutari remains to be able of energy come 2023.  It has lately been reported that he’s beneath investigation for allegedly accumulating pension credit for a no-show job as Linden’s municipal prosecutor; the identical form of legal exercise that despatched former State Senator Wayne Bryant to jail.  If this brewing scandal takes down Scutari, it might take away the foothold that Norcross and Sweeney at present have on this vital Central Jersey county.  In the event that they lose management over Union County, it might give insurgents in Middlesex County the leverage and momentum that they should take management there as properly, which might all however remove any probability of an Oliver challenger to win in 2025.

An all-out civil warfare in Union County most definitely implies that each Cryan and Scutari will face main election challenges in LD20 and LD22.  Cryan’s challenger would most definitely come from Elizabeth’s Hispanic neighborhood whereas Scutari’s challenger would most definitely come from Plainfield’s African-American neighborhood.

As Democrats in Central Jersey and South Jersey maneuver to attempt to improve their share of the bulk within the Meeting and Senate, Democrats in North Jersey may have maneuvers of their very own that they will make.  Simply as Central Jersey Democrats will have the ability to redistribute their better-performing cities to create new alternatives to extend their majority, North Jersey Democrats may have comparable alternatives.

The primary legislative districts the place changes may be made to profit North Jersey Democrats can be in LD26 and LD27.  Within the former, Democrats have tried to develop into extra aggressive, however proceed to fail, whereas profitable by enormous margins within the latter.  By transferring West Orange from LD27 to LD26 and changing it with Republican cities in Morris County, not solely will LD26 lastly develop into aggressive, it’s going to allow Assemblyman John McKeon to lastly have the ability to run for State Senate after greater than 20 years of ready for State Senator Richard Codey to run for Governor or retire, neither of that are more likely to occur anytime quickly.

The following cease in our sport of musical municipal chairs is LD34 and LD40.  LD40 has been a protected Republican district for the greater than 20 years that I’ve been following New Jersey politics.  Nonetheless, transferring Montclair into this newly aggressive district and creating a brand new LD34 out of Belleville, Bloomfield, Glen Ridge, and Nutley in Essex County and Clifton, Totowa, and Woodland Park in Passaic County, would drive State Senators Kristin Corrado and Nia Gill to should defend their seats in new districts which can be far much less protected than their present districts.

The large query is whether or not Corrado’s challenger within the new LD34 goes to return from Essex County or Passaic County.  If Gill is ready to win within the new LD40 and McKeon wins within the new LD26, Essex County would have a complete of 5 State Senators; six if Corrado is defeated by somebody from Essex County.  At present, Passaic County solely has one Democratic State Senator, Nellie Pou.

Regardless that Democratic turnout numbers within the Essex County portion of this district can be far better than within the Passaic County portion of the district, Jones is perhaps inclined to throw Currie a bone, though incumbent Assemblyman Ralph Caputo may not make that call simple for him.  I can solely guess that he would need the chance to ascend to the State Senate.

The demographics of the district would demand that at the least one of many three legislative candidates be Hispanic, though two, a person and a lady, would in all probability be smarter.  If Currie will get to decide on the State Senate candidate, would he give it to his shut ally, Woodland Park Mayor Keith Kazmark, or his girlfriend, Clifton Councilwoman Lauren Murphy?

Both decide might make Caputo the odd white man out if Jones needs two Hispanic candidates out of Essex County to run for State Meeting, creating a chance for South Jersey to again Caputo for a State Senate run, matching him with two Hispanic insurgents, at the least one in every of which might in all probability come from Clifton.  The opposite would in all probability come from Bloomfield.

Who would they be?  If Invoice Pascrell, Jr. and his son, Billy the Third, nonetheless have the identical relationships with South Jersey that that they had again in 2000 once they had been supporting Florio in opposition to Corzine, there is no such thing as a doubt in my thoughts that they’ll have the ability to recruit somebody.  Are the Pascrells nonetheless nursing a grudge in opposition to Currie for dumping Billy the Third from his Passaic County Counsel place?  One can solely assume.

An astute reader might be asking themselves, what about East Orange?  If it’s not within the new LD34, the place is it?  It’s now within the new LD28 together with the North and West Wards of Newark, creating a chance for Assemblywoman Britnee Timberlake to ascend to the State Senate and forcing a call on incumbent State Senator Ronald Rice to both retire or align himself with South Jersey in a contested main election; neither of which might be satisfying selections for the pugnacious Rice.

Pleasing or not, they’re inevitable as Jones will most definitely be single-minded in his efforts to have each of his shut allies, Oliver and Timberlake, ascend from their present workplaces to the workplaces of Governor and State Senator respectively.  Historic adversaries, Norcross and Rice, is perhaps the one impediment to these efforts.  Politics makes unusual bedfellows certainly.

The following cease is Hudson County.  Like transferring the deck chairs on the Titanic, there will not be any materials profit to altering district traces considerably on this county.  Nonetheless, for a lot too lengthy, individuals who have watched Hudson County politics from inside and outside have predicted that the chilly warfare between two of the final twin officeholders within the state, North Bergen Mayor and LD32 State Senator Nick Sacco and Union Metropolis Mayor and LD33 State Senator Brian Stack would someday lead to a sizzling warfare and I predict that 2023 can be that 12 months.

Regardless that Stack’s allegiances between Murphy and Norcross/Sweeney have by no means been fully clear, Sacco has accomplished sufficient in recent times to harass and embarrass Murphy and his allies between permitting himself to be recorded, leaving threatening voice mails for Lydia Coleman, to complicating laws that will have ended necessary minimal sentences in an effort to guard corrupt politicians, that they could be prepared to offer Stack the battle that Stack has been dreaming about for many years.  Sacco in all probability has sufficient allies in Hudson County Democratic group to get the celebration line in opposition to Stack, however in a low turnout cycle with State Senator on the prime of the poll, it’s unlikely to matter.

Each candidates will fill their traces with sturdy candidates and have sturdy organizations behind them.  The one query can be turnout and that’s probably to offer Stack the sting in opposition to Sacco.  Sacco could also be feared by many, if not most individuals in North Bergen, however Stack is beloved by almost everybody in Union Metropolis.  There are usually not many conditions the place love trumps worry, however this may very well be one in every of them.  How properly Sacco and Stack carry out in Guttenberg, Weehawken, and West New York in Hudson County and Fairview in Bergen County will in all probability resolve the end result of this race.

Clearly, placing Sacco and Stack within the new LD33, creates an open seat within the new LD32, consisting of Hoboken and Wards C, D, E, and F of Jersey Metropolis.  Will that give Jersey Metropolis a second State Senator along with LD31 State Senator Sandra Bolden Cunningham, who has traditionally been aligned with the Norcross/Sweeney axis, or will Hoboken have the ability to elect one in every of its personal?  It’s not possible to foretell, but when somebody supplied me adequate odds, I might put my cash on former Hoboken Councilwoman, Beth Mason, who’s a Sweeney ally.  She gained’t get the HCDO line, however neither will Bolden-Cunningham nor Stack and it shouldn’t forestall both of them from profitable.

Sowing division all through North Jersey can be one other ingredient of the South Jersey technique.  Sure, their very own allies in Middlesex County and Union County may have their very own civil wars to battle, however there may very well be much more in Bergen, Essex, Hudson, and Passaic Counties in 2023, which is able to present the inspiration for the last word battle in 2025.

Bergen County may very well be one other main entrance on this civil warfare.  Except Sarlo is keen to desert Sweeney, it’s doable if unlikely that the Bergen County Democratic Group won’t give him their line when he runs for re-election in 2023.  The identical can be true for Lagana, who is much extra more likely to buckle beneath strain than Sarlo.

Crew North might additionally acquire a further Democratic State Senator by making LD39, the county’s solely Republican district considerably extra Democratic by including Democratic cities like Bergenfield, Fort Lee, and Tenafly and subtracting a number of of its Republican cities.  This might make LD37 much less Democratic, however not by sufficient to make it aggressive.

If the following legislative district map approximates what I’ve described and the Democrats win in every single place that it might be cheap for them to win, they might have LD1 by way of L8 in South Jersey, LD11, LD12, LD14 by way of LD22 in Central Jersey, and LD25 by way of LD29 and LD31 by way of LD40.  Clearly, going from 25 (or 26 if Zwicker wins in LD16) seats within the State Senate to 34 seats is a big leap, particularly in a low turnout cycle with out a statewide race to drive turnout, however it’s throughout the realm of chance.

If the Democrats had been to win this many seats and incumbents gained all of their contested main elections besides the loser of the Sacco-Stack race, would Steve Sweeney nonetheless be Senate President?  Assuming that present alliances nonetheless maintain, Sweeney would begin with eight South Jersey seats in LD1 by way of LD8, eight Central Jersey seats in LD11, LD12, LD14, LD17 by way of LD19, LD21, and LD22, and two North Jersey seats in LD31 and LD36, which needs to be sufficient even with out LD32 and LD33.

His North Jersey opponent would have three Central Jersey seats in LD15, LD16, and LD20 and eleven North Jersey seats in LD25 by way of LD29, LD34, LD35, and LD37 by way of LD40.  This assumes that the BCDO flips Lagana, however is unable to defeat or flip Sarlo.

Nonetheless, if the latter assumption is wrong and Sweeney is caught on seventeen seats with Linda Greenstein a possible defection, the winner of the Sacco-Stack race can be in an extremely highly effective place.  Except my longshot guess comes by way of and Mason wins the open seat, the LD33 winner would most definitely convey the LD32 winner with him wherever he goes, both clinching the Senate Presidency for Sweeney or deadlocking it.  This raises the query as to who that unknown Sweeney opponent is perhaps.

Assuming Stack beats Sacco, might he negotiate the highest legislative management place for himself?  Jones isn’t going to demand it for Essex County since he’ll most definitely have the Governor when Oliver ascends to that place.  Sarlo might negotiate it for himself.  That’s in all probability the one method that the BCDO might get him to flip on Sweeney.  Currie is unlikely to have the ability to get it for Passaic County.  Is there a option to fulfill each Sarlo’s and Stack’s ambitions?  Or is there a path ahead with out both of them?

Senate President Joe Vitale would sound significantly better to many extra Democrats, particularly progressives, than Senate President Paul Sarlo or Senate President Brian Stack.  May Middlesex County be in play?  Clearly, MCDO Chairman Kevin McCabe would don’t have any qualms about buying and selling Craig Coughlin’s Meeting Speakership to have the ability to  make Vitale the Senate President.  Both method, Middlesex County and Woodbridge retains their energy.

If Zwicker wins in LD16 in 2021 and Greenstein, Mironov, or somebody from Previous Bridge takes LD14 in 2003, Middlesex County would have 5 State Senators.  If McKeon wins in a brand new LD26, Gill wins in a brand new LD40, and Essex County retains LD34, Essex County would have six State Senators.  Discovering seven extra wouldn’t be very tough.  LD15, LD20, LD25, LD35, and LD37 can be low-hanging fruit.  LD38 may very well be muscled away from Sweeney’s column by the BCDO.  If there’s a battle between Somerset County and Union County in LD21 and Schaffer wins that battle, that will clinch the Senate Presidency for North Jersey.  If not, LD11 can be the following goal and Vin Gopal can be far less expensive than both Sarlo or Stack.

Clearly, these calculations rely on profitable many powerful races in a low turnout election cycle, which might usually not produce such large good points.  Nonetheless, as a result of it’s doable to attract a map the place so many districts may very well be aggressive sufficient for this to occur, these potentialities are value contemplating.

What makes this much more fascinating is that in a low turnout cycle like 2023, Republicans might conceivably win as many as twenty seats, which might convey the legislature again to the place it was twenty years earlier when John Bennett and Richard Codey shared energy.  Because of this it’s solely doable for Democrats and Republicans to agree on a map with out requiring a tiebreaking vote to be forged.

Usually, Democrats wouldn’t be keen to be almost this aggressive and can be rather more targeted on establishing after which guaranteeing their majority as they’ve over the last two redistricting processes.  Nonetheless, as a result of Norcross and Sweeney have been in a position to dominate the legislature for so long as they’ve by dividing the North Jersey and Central Jersey political machine bosses and turning them in opposition to each other, and have been in a position to flip what was once referred to as essentially the most highly effective Governors within the nation into one of many weakest, it’s doable, if unlikely, that the Democratic political machine bosses all through the state will shift their give attention to creating many extra takeover alternatives, even when it offers extra alternatives to the Republicans as properly.

As a result of there are such a lot of variables, it’s not possible to foretell who will win.  Nonetheless, if the final twenty-plus years of watching New Jersey politics has taught me one factor, it’s to not guess in opposition to George Norcross except you might be getting excellent odds.  When his adversaries seem to have all the solutions, he modifies the questions.  Curtain.

For Act 1 of this Three Act sequence, please go here; and keep tuned for Act Three.


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