Despite having one of the most unpopular and polarizing governors in the country, the race to succeed Gov. Chris Christie barely has been mentioned on the national scene.
And it hasn’t fared much better in New Jersey.
With a little more than two weeks until the general election, candidates Phil Murphy and Kim Guadagno have struggled to build up widespread support and create coalitions commonly seen in gubernatorial races. That has been especially true for people living in South Jersey, according to election experts.
Instead, local races may have to carry the turnout in Atlantic, Cape May and Cumberland counties.
“The governor race is usually a big deal, especially when there isn’t an incumbent,” said John Weingart, associate director of the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers University. “Everyone is exhausted from (the 2016 presidential election) and its aftermath. It’s taken up a lot of oxygen and attention from this race.”
Several legislative races have taken center stage in South Jersey.
On Tuesday, the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission released the first financial reports on candidates running for office in New Jersey. It came as no surprise that South Jersey had very expensive elections, but this cycle’s spending is poised to shatter records.
The New Jersey Education Association has dumped about $5 million into attack ads on state Senate President Steve Sweeney. Sweeney, D-Cumberland, Salem, Gloucester, has seen almost another $5 million spent on ads supporting him.
In Atlantic County, the race to fill the seat of the late state Sen. Jim Whelan has grabbed headlines — and also been expensive.
It’s also one of the only close legislative races in New Jersey.
A recent Stockton University poll, the only public poll measuring the race, said the race between Republican Chris Brown and Democrat Colin Bell is a “dead heat.”
Democrats have the lead in the state Assembly race with Vince Mazzeo and John Armato, but GOP challengers Vince Sera and Brenda Taube sit only eight and nine points behind, respectively, according to the poll.
The top two vote-getters will get seats in the Assembly.
Brigid Harrison, a professor at Monclair State University and president of the New Jersey Political Science Association, said while she expects this to be a low-turnout election statewide, the legislative races in the 2nd legislative district could inspire voters to show up in Atlantic County.
“There are so few competitive races throughout New Jersey,” she said. “You’ve seen the state Republicans and Democrats invest in this race because it’s one district that could go either way.”
In the state Senate race, the state Republicans have invested $200,000 in Brown’s campaign, while state Democrats have invested $40,000 into Bell’s.
Harrison said the election for Atlantic City mayor could pique the interest of voters because of the city’s incumbent Mayor Don Guardian.
“Don Guardian is in a very unique position because he is a Republican incumbent in a very Democratic town,” she said.
But investing money and close races don’t always predict high turnout.
In 2015, the Assembly race in Atlantic County was the most expensive campaign in the state. Despite that, only 30 percent of registered voters bothered to vote in the election.
During the last governor’s race in 2013, 41 percent of registered voters in Atlantic County voted.
The numbers weren’t much better in Cape May and Cumberland counties.
In 2013, 50 percent of registered voters came to the polls in Cape May County, while 37 percent of voters showed in Cumberland County.
This year, the prospect of a new governor may not be enough to bring out voters in South Jersey. Part of that could be because Murphy has held a big lead over Guadagno in every poll released by major polling institutes.
On Thursday, former President Barack Obama campaigned for Murphy in New Jersey, but it was unclear whether that would actually lead to more votes.
“Even before we knew who the next (president of the United States) was, everyone pretty much knew that Murphy had a path to winning,” Weingart said. “That kind of became clear when Steve Sweeney announced he wasn’t running.”