Legislative Seats, Sports Betting on NJ Ballot

New Jerseyans go to the polls in newly drawn districts that reflect population changes recorded in 2010 census

Monday, Nov 7, 2011  |  Updated 4:51 PM EDT
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Legislative Seats, Sports Betting on NJ Ballot

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New Jersey's usually bold and confident governor has set the bar low for his party in Tuesday's state elections, saying he sees few opportunities for Republicans to advance.

Gov. Chris Christie has kept expectations low partly because the new legislative district map favors incumbents, who are mostly Democrats. Christie has said it would be historic if Republicans don't lose seats in the Legislature in the midterm elections even tough Democrats already control both houses.

Democrat Jim McGreevey was the only governor in 48 years to gain legislative seats in the midterm, and Christie said that was due at least in part to a legislative district map that favored Democrats.

New Jerseyans go to the polls Tuesday to choose all 120 state legislators in the Senate and Assembly in newly drawn districts that reflect population changes recorded in the 2010 census. The only public question on the ballot asks whether New Jerseyans want to legalize sports betting once a federal ban is lifted.

Many voters also will select county and local governments. Voters in Princeton Township and Princeton Borough will decide whether to merge their towns. The township completely encircles the borough, and plans to merge the communities have fallen apart at least three times in the past 60 years.

After he spent weeks tamping down expectations despite his personal popularity, Christie rallied local Republican candidates, staff and campaign volunteers during a 20-minute conference call Wednesday night.

"We're all in," Christie said. "Remember in these midterms, what really matters is the last 72 hours. All our time and effort will be wasted unless we finish."

With legislative races topping the ticket, voter turnout will be low. Both sides agree get-out-the-vote efforts will be critical.

The most closely watched races statewide are Senate contests in the 2nd District, which includes Atlantic City, and in Bergen County's 38th District. Both seats are held by Democrats, with Republican contenders mounting serious challenges. The Senate now has 24 Democrats and 16 Republicans.

In the 2nd District, Sen. Jim Whelan is being challenged by Assemblyman Vince Polistina in the roughest campaign of the year. Whelan is a former Atlantic City mayor and public school teacher. Polistina, a municipal engineer whose firm designs water and wastewater systems, is hoping to move to the upper House.

The race has been gutter-level politics.

Ads by Polistina's camp accuse Whelan of building a public pension by amassing seniority through several public-sector jobs and of collecting on his retirement from government service while continuing to teach.

Ads by Whelan's camp accuse Polistina of using his political clout to land profitable public contracts for his engineering firm. More recently, an ad equates the Republican's rebuke of the Democrats' state budget proposal as a vote against services for disabled children and women's health care.

In the 38th, Sen. Bob Gordon is being challenged by Freeholder Chairman John Driscoll. Gordon is a solar energy developer whose wife is a Christie fundraiser. Driscoll is a tobacco salesman who voluntarily cut his freeholder salary by 25 percent.

In the Assembly, currently controlled 47-33 by Democrats, less than a handful of races are up in the-air. Republicans have targeted their efforts mostly in Burlington and Bergen counties, where there are open seats that had been held by Democrats.

Christie also is hoping to make gains in Gloucester, Salem, Cumberland and Bergen county governments, which would better position him and the party for 2013.

The only ballot question asks voters whether they want to make sports betting legal.

Even if it passes as pre-election polls indicate, a federal ban on sports betting in all but four states must be lifted before anyone in New Jersey can start making legal bets on the Jets, Giants or Eagles, or any other pro team.

The state missed a 1991 federal deadline to legalize sports betting and was left out of the 1992 law that allowed it in Nevada, Delaware, Oregon and Montana. Nevada is the only state taking legal bets on individual games.

In Princeton Borough and Township, voters will decide whether to merge.

While studies suggest a merger would save money for taxpayers, skeptics fear the loss of their local identities, particularly in the borough.

The last time towns merged was in 1997, when Warren County's Hardwick absorbed Pohaquarry, population 7.

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