Most agree, State Sen. Vin Gopal (D) has a strong political future that could one day lead to a run for governor. He also has a political presence that seemingly always will include a tough battle in Monmouth County-based District 11, one of the few battleground areas of the state.
As it turns out, the area wasn’t much of a battle this time around.
Gopal easily cruised to victory in his State Senate race, easily defeating Republican businessman Steve Dnistrian (59.8%-39.4%) in what may have been the most expensive race in the state (an estimated $6.5 million was spent, NJ Spotlight reported).
His victory not only was good for Democrats (Gov. Phil Murphy and State Sen. President Nick Scutari made it to Gopal’s victory celebration) but perhaps one for common sense, as it showed voters were not swayed by cultural claims (parental rights/school issues) or illogical connections to other events and people (offshore wind or U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez).
Gopal, who won his third term – the first for a Democrat in this district – said his victory showed voters embraced civility and decency. Voters also flipped the two Assembly seats to the Democrats, key pickups.
All of this makes it the biggest win of the night.
Other winners and losers:
Democratic majorities: There was a time that Republicans dreamed they could flip one or even both of the houses – buoyed by their success in 2021 (when they picked up seats) and redistricting. That wasn’t the case. Democrats are expected to maintain their 25-15 edge in the Senate and actually pick up a handful of seats in the Assembly, where they already held a 46-34 advantage.
John Burzichelli: The former Assemblyman, who was a surprise loser in District 3 in 2021, came back in 2023 – taking back the Senate Seat formerly held by his close friend Steve Sweeney (also a stunning upset victim in 2021).
Lakewood: In a big surprise, Avi Schnall (a Democrat) soundly defeated Republican Assemblyman incumbent Ned Thomson for a seat in District 30 – a largely Republican area that includes Lakewood, where the Orthodox Jewish community came out in full force for Schnall. Consider this: Schnall received more than 27,500 votes (with 99% in). His Democratic running mate, Salvatore Frascino, got fewer than 8,500.
N.J. Globe: We support all media here at ROI, but we give a special nod to the smaller outlets that are punching well past their weight. With all due respect to others, David Wildstein’s twitter feed (@wildstein) was the place to get the latest news and analysis on election night.
Sal Cortese: Who? I’ll admit it, this one is personal. Sal won re-election to a council seat in Morris Plains (my longtime hometown). It’s great that I live in a 50-50 town (the four council candidates were all within 56 votes of each other) and even better that voters kept Cortese in office. As a former longtime leader of Little League, I can attest that few officials anywhere in the state have done more for kids in their town than Cortese.
Ed the Trucker: Ed Durr made national news when he unseated State Sen. President Steve Sweeney in District 3 in 2021 in one of the biggest political upsets in state history. And while we’ll always salute the fact that anyone can win any election (in theory), Durr’s relatively large defeat (53.2%-46.8%) in a district that seemingly is turning red shows that candidates do matter.
Democracy: It’s great to say all 120 seats in the Legislature were up. It would be better to say there were competitive races. Of the 40 races for Senate seats, only four were decided by 10% points or less (Districts 3, 4, 8, 21, 25 – and only one by less than 5% (shout out to Latham River, R, who defeated Gaye Burton in District 8, 52.2%-47.8%). This isn’t what I learned watching Schoolhouse Rock.
Jack Ciattarelli: He announced his intention to run for governor in 2025 soon after his surprisingly close run in 2021. He has done little to take advantage of that boost in the past two years – and the 2023 results may indicate his close race in 2021 was more about people making a statement about Murphy than about him.
Republicans: What’s the messaging going forward – especially in a state where Trump doesn’t resonate?