Testa Team election night

State Sen.-elect Michael Testa Jr., center, with running mates for Assembly Antwan McClellan, left, and Erik Simonsen, celebrate their win in the state's 1st Legislative District on election night. McClellan is the first African American elected to 1st District office, and will be the only Republican African American in the state Legislature. Simonsen is the mayor of Lower Township.

Republicans swept the 1st District legislative race and almost won in the 2nd, despite being outspent about 3:1 by Democrats, according to a Tuesday report by the state Election Law Enforcement Commission.

The 1st District race was the state’s costliest, with candidates and independent groups spending a combined $2.96 million — $1.88 million by the candidates and $1.1 million by groups.

Democratic candidates spent $1.83 million to the Republicans’ $641,000.

And all of the $1.1 million in independent spending reported to ELEC went to the Democrats, said ELEC Deputy Executive Director Joe Donohue.

The only spending that is not included is county and state party committee spending. Those figures will only be final in January, Donohue said.

It was the first time the GOP gained seats in the Legislature in a decade, according to ELEC.

Republican Mike Testa, a Vineland attorney, defeated incumbent Democrat Bob Andrzejczak, of Cape May; and Assembly GOP candidates Erik Simonsen, of Lower Township, and Antwan McClellan, of Ocean City, defeated incumbent Democrats Bruce Land and Matt Milam, both of Vineland.

In the neighboring 2nd Legislative District, which covers most of Atlantic County, the Assembly-only race was the seventh-most-costly of the state’s 40 legislative districts, with a total of $1.2 million spent — about $900,000 by the candidates and $316,000 by independent groups.

Republicans almost won there despite being outspent by similar strong margins.

Republicans Phil Guenther, of Brigantine, and John Risley, of Egg Harbor Township, were ahead after the polls closed on Election Night. But they lost to incumbent Assemblymen Vince Mazzeo, of Northfield, and John Armato, of Buena Vista Township, after all votes-by-mail were counted.

“The vast majority of spending is always in the so-called targeted districts and those considered to be competitive,” said ELEC Executive Director Jeff Brindle. “Those two districts not only this time around but in previous elections have always been targeted districts.”

The 1st District, which covers all of Cape May and parts of Cumberland and Atlantic counties, is one of the poorest in the state. Yet its status as a battleground district traditionally attracts lots of spending.

In the 1st and 2nd, “both sides felt they had a good chance of winning,” Brindle said. “That’s why (spending was so high).”

Another factor in the 1st was the Senate race there — the only one in the state. It was a special race to fill the unexpired term of former state Sen. Jeff Van Drew, the Democrat who left to become a member of Congress in January.

Overall spending statewide was lackluster, Brindle said. About $25 million was spent on 80 Assembly races and one Senate race, compared with $70.5 million spent in 2017 when the Senate and Assembly were on the ballot, and $36.3 million in 2015 when just the Assembly was up for re-election.

“A lot of the independent groups as well as candidates themselves, a lot are holding back until next year,” Brindle said, when congressional races will be on the ballot as well as the president.

The next year the Assembly and Senate are up together will be in 2021, he said. And since it’s the beginning of a decade, by law the state Senate and Assembly will also be up two years later in 2023. Normally the Assembly runs every two years and the state Senate every four.

“Most people figured the Democrats would maintain a majority, so a lot of people who would make contributions are holding back till next year,” Brindle said. “The Republicans are going to try to take back congressional seats lost two years ago, and the Democrats are going to try to hold onto them.”

That includes New Jersey’s 2nd Congressional District, in which Democrat Jeff Van Drew won the seat after the retirement of longtime Republican Rep. Frank LoBiondo.

Already three Republicans have announced they will challenge Van Drew, and there has been talk of one or more primary challengers unhappy with Van Drew’s no vote on impeachment rules.

The Republicans are Brian T. Fitzherbert, 30, of Egg Harbor Township, an engineer and project manager in the defense and aerospace industry; David Richter, 53, who recently moved to Avalon from Princeton, the former CEO of Hill International in Philadelphia; and Robert Patterson, of Camden County and Ocean City, former senior adviser and acting associate commissioner of the U.S. Social Security Administration in the Office of Strategic and Digital Communications.

Patterson was defeated in the 1st Congressional District in 2016, running against Rep. Donald Norcross, D-Camden.

Longport’s Brigid Harrison, a Montclair State University professor, has said she is considering mounting a Democratic primary challenge.

Contact: 609-272-7219

mpost@pressofac.com

Twitter @MichelleBPost

Staff Writer

In my first job after college got paid to read the New York Times and summarize articles for an early online data base. First reporting job was with The Daily Record in Parsippany. I have also worked in nonprofits, and have been with The Press since 1990.

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