CAPE MAY COURT HOUSE -- Assemblymen Nelson Albano and Matt Milam fended off a strong Republican challenge on Tuesday to win re-election in the 1st Legislative District.

The two Democrats beat Stone Harbor Mayor Suzanne Walters and Cumberland County Freeholder Samuel Fiocchi to maintain control of the 1st Legislative District.

It marked Albano's fourth win and Milam's third.

The race was a squeaker until final returns were counted in Cumberland County as Walters carried Cape May County.

With 100 percent of the district's reporting in Atlantic, Cape May and Cumberland counties, Albano was the top vote getter with 24,547. Milam finished second with 21,978 votes. Fiocchi received 21,004 votes, while Walters received 20, 669 votes.

Walters had taken a commanding lead early in the vote tabulation thanks to slow returns in Cumberland County where Democrats ultimately prevailed.

In a speech at the Bellevue Tavern in Middle Township, Walters thanked her supporters.

"They placed 100,000 phone calls and knocked on 10,000 doors," she said. "I met so many new people."

Albano characterized his opponents' campaign as "negative and dirty," blaming the Republicans' advertisements for the close race. But he said he would not do anything differently in his campaign.

"No, absolutely not," he said.

Albano and Milam had campaigned with Sen. Jeff Van Drew in a campaign that initially focused on jobs and the economy but had deteriorated into political mudslinging by campaign's end.

For Walters and Fiocchi, the race marked their first bids for state office.

The Democrats spent much of the campaign answering for state policies such as Gov. Chris Christie's efforts to close the Vineland Developmental Center, a home for developmentally disabled men and a workplace for about 1,344 Cumberland County residents.

Republicans said the incumbents had not done enough to safeguard jobs in a part of the state that has the highest unemployment rate in New Jersey.

But the Democrats pushed a message of encouraging innovation and promoting small businesses to spur the economy. Milam owns a trucking business in Vineland.

The Democratic slate benefited from a 5-to-1 spending advantage to their Republican opponents.