Murphy slide reaches Trenton as top NJ pol on track to lose seat to GOP challenger

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Murphy slide reaches Trenton as top NJ pol on track to lose seat to GOP challenger

It’s not just Gov. Phil Murphy.

As the Democratic incumbent remains locked in a dogfight against Republican challenger Jack Ciattarelli, the Trenton legislature could also see a major reshuffle as the longest-running state senate president trails in his re-election bid to a truck driver. 

Democrat Stephen Sweeney, the second-most powerful elected politician in the Garden State, is trailing behind Republican Edward Durr, a relatively unknown challenger, by approximately 2,000 votes as of Wednesday, according to NBC News

Sweeney, of Gloucester, has held his state Senate seat for nearly 20 years in New Jersey’s 3rd district and has been the Senate president since 2010. In the position, the 62-year-old has had power over what bills are voted on in the Legislature’s upper chamber and which nominees from the governor’s office get confirmation hearings. 

With 100 percent of precincts reporting their votes, it looks as though Durr is set to unseat Sweeney, in a massive upset. 

Durr, 58, has been a truck driver for 25 years, according to NJ Advance Media, and has lived in the Garden State his whole life. This is not his first time running for office, as Durr attempted to run for state Assembly in 2019. Durr did not garner much attention during the election and spent a whooping $153 on his campaign for Dunkin Donuts and paper flyers. 

Sweeney is losing to truck driver and Republican candidate Edward Durr by 2,000 votes.
Sweeney is losing to truck driver and Republican candidate Edward Durr by about 2,000 votes.
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“I joked with people and I said, ‘I’m going to shock the world, I’m going to beat this man,’” Durr told the outlet. “I was saying it, but really kind of joking. Because what chance did a person like me really stand against this man? He’s literally the second-most powerful person in the state of New Jersey.”

While the race has yet to be officially called, some are saying it would “completely upend” the Legislature. 

“Sweeney is a giant,” Ben Dworkin, director of Rowan University’s Institute for Public Policy and Citizenship, said. “If he loses, it’s not just an earthquake in New Jersey politics, it’s a big bang. It completely upends everything.”

The unexpected upset comes as New Jersey still awaits who will be their next governor with Democrat Phil Murphy and Republican Jack Ciattarelli remaining in a dead heat — at one point Wednesday, the two were less than 500 votes apart.

The two candidates have flip-flopped the lead multiple times since the polls closed Tuesday at 8 p.m., surprising many who thought the race would be an easy win for incumbent governor Murphy. 

As of midday Wednesday, the Associated Press put Ciattarelli ahead with 1,178,393votes  — 49.64 percent — and 1,177,928 — 49.62 percent — for Murphy. That put the Republican a razor-thin 465 votes ahead. 

Shortly after, Mercer County released their count of mail-in ballots which heavily swayed toward Murphy, switching which candidate was in the lead again. Just before 1 p.m., the incumbent governor led by 14,891 votes carrying 49.94 percent of the vote compared to Ciattarelli’s 49.32 percent. 

During the campaign, Murphy had held a steady lead over Ciattarelli, however the former businessman appeared to close in on Murphy in a number of late polls.

Hundreds of thousands of ballots, including early and absentee votes, are still expected to be tallied in the election as approximately 89 percent of the vote has been reported. 

Sweeney's poor performance in his election mirrors Gov. Phil Murphy's close race against a Republican challenger.
Sweeney’s poor performance in his election mirrors Gov. Phil Murphy’s close race against a Republican challenger.
AP Photo/Julio Cortez

Given how close the race has been, there is a strong possibility for a recount

In New Jersey, there is no automatic recount, but any candidate can request a recount within 17 days after an election by applying to a judge of the Superior Court that oversees the district or districts involved in the recount. 

Delays in the vote counts have also been caused by issues with voting machines in several districts. A mistake by a poll worker led machines in 56 districts in Essex County, the state’s second-most populated region,  to be turned off  before their votes  were tallied, local election officials said. Paterson in Passaic County is also dealing with similar issues in five districts. 

For the votes to be tallied, a judge must now approve an order to unseal the voting machines in both counties.

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