TRENTON, NJ (AP) – New Jersey’s longtime State Senate President, Democrat Steve Sweeney, lost re-election and fell to a Republican newcomer who spent little money and underscored democratic suffering in the Biden era.
Edward Durr, a truck driver from a furniture company and first-time official, defeated Sweeney in New Jersey’s 3rd Legislative District, according to results compiled Thursday.
Sweeney’s defeat was unexpected and has brought the fate of the state government into uncertainty.
“It’s amazing and shocking, and I can not figure it out,” Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg said in an interview.
His loss unfolded in a politically competitive Philadelphia district, whose counties shared their votes between Democrats and Republicans in the 2016 presidential election and again in 2020.
It also coincided with an increase in GOP turnout, even in an election outside the year in which Republicans made progress throughout the state. Durr’s victory on Thursday yielded about 3% more votes than Sweeney did in 2017 in unofficial returns.
Sweeney’s attention was also focused on close Senate races elsewhere in the state.
“I do not really think it was Steve Sweeney,” said incoming Republican Senate leader Steve Oroho. “I think it had to do with the message that came from people who were just annoyed with all the announcements and all the mandates and were tired of being told what they can and can’t do.”
The loss says more about the headwinds the Democrats face after losing the governor’s race in Virginia and winning a narrow victory in New Jersey’s governor Phil Murphy’s race against Republican Jack Ciattarelli, experts said.
“This was a protest vote against the Biden administration and Murphy,” said Professor Brigid Harrison of political science at Montclair State University. “Steve was in many ways just how people expressed their dissatisfaction and anger with the larger political structure.”
Sweeney said in a statement Thursday that he was waiting for more votes to come before acknowledging the loss.
“While I am currently behind in the race, we want to make sure every vote counts. Our voters deserve it and we will wait for the final results,” he said.
Sweeney has served as Senate President since 2010 and was responsible for shepherding Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy’s. progressive agenda through the Legislative Assembly, including a phased-in minimum wage of $ 15 per hour, paid sick leave and legalization of recreational marijuana.
He is also known for his high-profile turn on opposition to gay marriage. Sweeney said in 2011 that he made the “biggest mistake of my legislative career” when he voted against marriage equality.
Although Sweeney was a fellow Democrat, he fought Murphy at the beginning of his administration to raise the income tax on the wealthy and worked closely with Republican Chris Christie during his eight-year tenure, which ended in 2018.
An agreement he made with Christie to revise the public workers’ pension put Sweeney at odds with unions in the public sector that would continue to become important supporters of Murphy.
Sweeney’s loss was applauded by progressive Democrats from southern New Jersey who saw him as a product of transactional machine politics.
“Today is glorious,” Sue Altman, director of the New Jersey Working Families, said in a tweet. Altman is a longtime critic of Sweeneys and saw him as focused on trying to maintain control of the Democratic Party, especially in southern New Jersey.
His allies say he was open-minded and eventually liberated from the left.
“I think he was a remarkable senator and senate president, and since I have often reminded my progressive friends that we could never have gotten all those bills on Gov. Murphy’s desk so he could sign without the cooperation of the senate president,” he said. Weinberg.
Sweeney had previously faced electoral opposition. In 2017, his feud with the state’s largest teachers’ union over, among other things, retirement benefits led to a fight in which the New Jersey Education Association spent millions trying to defeat Sweeney. The union’s efforts failed.
But this year, Durr defeated him and spent $ 2,300, according to a document from the Electoral Law Enforcement Commission filed online Thursday. Previous reports had shown that he had only spent $ 153.31 on his campaign.
Messages seeking comments have been left at Durr.
Durr describes himself as a 2nd Amendment rights activist and tax conservative who wants to lower taxes. In an interview with NJ.com, he described how unlikely he considered his victory to be. He has previously unsuccessfully run for state assembly in 2017 and 2019, but this is his first elected position.
“I was joking with people and I said, ‘I want to shock the world, I want to beat this man,'” Durr said Wednesday afternoon. “I said it, but it was really funny. For what chance did a person like me actually stand against this man? He’s literally the second most powerful person in the state of New Jersey.”
Sweeney is a professional iron worker who has served as the leader of the International Association of Bridge, Structural, Ornamental and Reinforcement Iron Workers. He is also an important ally and friend of the Democratic power broker, George Norcross, who is widely considered to be one of the most powerful non-elected people in the state.
It is unclear who will be the next president of the Senate. If Democrats retain control of the House, as incomplete results show they could do, then Democratic senators will meet to elect their next leader.
The 3rd Legislative District covers parts of the counties of Cumberland, Gloucester and Salem.
On election day, Democrats had controlled the state assembly with 52 seats for the Republicans 28. In the state Senate, Democrats had 25 seats for the Republicans’ 15.
This article has been corrected to show that Durr is not a first-time candidate. He ran without success for the state assembly in 2017 and 2019.
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