TRENTON, N.J. — New Jersey’s top elected Democrat turned aside a Republican challenger in a state Senate race Tuesday after millions of dollars were spent against him by an unlikely foe in the most expensive legislative election in state history.
Senate President Steve Sweeney faced roughly $4.5 million in attack ads funded by the New Jersey Education Association, but he defeated former Republican Woodstown Council member Fran Grenier.
The Election Law Enforcement Commission said the contest is the most expensive in state history with at least $15 million being spent.
Sweeney drew the anger of the union last year after he declined to hold a vote on a constitutional amendment to require quarterly pension payments.
The NJEA said in a statement that Grenier’s “insurgent campaign electrified New Jersey politics and energized NJEA members, who remain determined to endorse and campaign for pro-public education candidates regardless of party affiliation.”
FILLING THE LEGISLATURE
Democrats came into the day holding 52 of 80 Assembly seats and 24 of 40 Senate seats.
In the Senate, two Republican seats were turned over to Democrats and one Democratic seat went to Republicans.
Former Monmouth County Democratic chairman Vin Gopal emerged a winner after one of this year’s most expensive and closely fought legislative races over Republican state Sen. Jennifer Beck in the 11th District.
Election Law Enforcement Commission records show he spent $653,000 to her $433,000. He also benefited from a joint account with his Assembly running mates that spent $1.1 million.
Democratic Assemblyman Troy Singleton won the 7th District senate race, where incumbent Republican Diane Allen chose not to seek re-election.
In southern New Jersey’s 2nd District, Republican Assemblyman Chris Brown defeated incumbent state Sen. Colin Bell. The Democrat was sworn in in October to represent the district after the death this summer of Sen. Jim Whelan.
Brown’s seat in the Assembly was won by Democrat John Armato.
Republican U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo announced Tuesday he plans to retire from Congress rather than run for re-election last year, leading Democratic state Sen. Jeff Van Drew to say he’s “really very seriously considering” running for the seat.
Van Drew held off a challenge from Republican Mary Gruccio, superintendent of the Vineland schools, on Tuesday.
Van Drew, 64, has represented the southern New Jersey-based 1st Legislative District in the Senate for a decade, and for six years in the Assembly before that. He says he will decide in a couple of weeks on whether to run.
He represents a district that Trump carried and is viewed as giving Democrats a chance at picking up the GOP-held seat.
“Hopefully people will know me as very hardworking, very bipartisan, very moderate legislator who works for Democrats and Republicans,” he said.
New Jersey voters approved two ballot questions.
The first referendum asked them to authorize $125 million in bonds to expand and improve public libraries across the state. The New Jersey Library Construction Bond Act received strong bipartisan support in the Legislature.
Voters also approved a question to amend the state constitution to require that polluter fines go to “repair, restore, replace, or preserve the state’s natural resources.” Proponents say the amendment would prevent the money from being used for other purposes.