Dems retain Senate seats in South, North Jersey

By Angela Delli Santi

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, Nov. 8 2011 9:00 p.m. MST

Voters sign in at the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Complex, in Atlantic City, N.J., Tuesday, Nov 8, 2011.

The Press of Atlantic City, Edward Lea, Associated Press

TRENTON, N.J. — Democratic incumbents staved off Republican challenges in New Jersey's two most closely watched Senate races on Tuesday, denying Gov. Chris Christie coveted wins at the southern and northern ends of the state.

In Atlantic County, Sen. Jim Whelan defeated GOP Assemblyman Vince Polistina. In Bergen County, Sen. Bob Gordon edged out GOP Freeholder Chairman John Driscoll Jr. Republicans held both Assembly seats in the 2nd District, ensuring local representation would remain politically split.

Voters in New Jersey also approved a ballot question to legalize sports betting at casinos and race tracks, provided a federal ban is lifted.

Despite Christie's personal popularity and ability to raise millions for his party, Republicans' hopes were dashed by 10 p.m. that Tuesday would be a good night for the party.

"My friends, I have a feeling there is no party at Drumthwacket tonight," Gordon said in reference to the governor's mansion in Princeton.

Christie repeatedly downplayed expectations for Republicans on the ballot, but he campaigned and raised money for select candidates and hoped to make symbolic inroads in the Democratic majorities.

"It's not a referendum on my governorship," Christie declared.

Democrats control the Senate 24-16 and the Assembly 47-33. All 120 legislative seats were being decided Tuesday.

The state's 40 legislative districts, redrawn this year to reflect population shifts recorded in last year's census, favored incumbents.

This is the first election with the new legislative map. The map was drafted by Democrats and gave electoral security to most sitting lawmakers, regardless of party. Redistricting also changed the timetable for the election; candidates had just a week between the time the map was finalized and the deadline to enter the June primary elections. That tight schedule may have kept some prospective candidates out of the race.

The only statewide ballot question asked voters whether they support the legalization of sports betting if a federal ban is lifted.

Sports betting's leading advocate, Sen. Ray Lesniak of Union, said he would introduce legislation Thursday that would allow the Casino Control Commission to grant sports betting licenses to casinos and race tracks. If the legislation is enacted, the state would pursue action in federal court to overturn the betting ban.

In the legislative elections, Christie had said he'd consider the midterm elections a win for the GOP if the party did not lose any seats. He said every governor in the past 48 years except Jim McGreevey lost seats during the midterm elections.

The Republican State Committee, flush with cash thanks to Christie's ability to raise money, had spent $2.2 million as of Oct. 17, compared with $689,000 spent by the Democratic State Committee, election reports show.

On the county level, Christie said he was hoping to wrest control of freeholder boards from Democrats in Cumberland, Gloucester, Passaic and Salem counties. Republicans also were hoping to wipe out the Democrats altogether on the GOP-controlled Bergen and Monmouth freeholder boards. County-level gains by the GOP would better position Christie and the Legislature in 2013.

At the local level, voters in Princeton Township and Princeton Borough decided to combine their two towns.

Borough voters passed the measure Tuesday by a margin of about 3-to-2. It was even more decisive in the township, where it passed by a margin of more than 5-to-1. The merger takes effect in 2013.

At least three times in the past 60 years, the communities had rejected a merger.

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