With the general election less than 48 hours away, the race for the State Assembly and Senate in District 16 is considered one of the most competitive in the state.
The district, which includes Princeton, South Brunswick, and towns in Hunterdon and Somerset counties, is among the seven most dramatic races to watch, according to an NJ.com ranking. While the district has maintained a reputation for leaning Republican, that has changed in recent years as Democrats gain more influence. One of the major causes for this was redistricting in 2011.
With 49,729 registered Democrats and 38,911 Republicans, unaffiliated voters usually lean the district to the right. But after redistricting, and an upset in the 2015 election in which Democrat Andrew Zwicker beat incumbent Republican Donna Simon for an Assembly seat by 78 votes, the district that had once been safe for Republicans became more competitive.
In the primary election this June, the Republican candidates trailed behind the Democrats by about 2,000 votes. Andrew Zwicker and Roy Freiman ran unopposed for the Democratic ticket and received 10,918 and 10,358 votes, respectively. Simon earned 8,048 votes in the primary, while her running mate, Mark Caliguire, received 7,912 votes.
Incumbent State Senator Christopher “Kip” (R-Somerville) ran unopposed in the primary this June for the Republican seat, and Hillsborough lawyer Laurie Poppe ran unopposed for the Democratic seat.
The general election campaign has been an ugly one, with both sides accusing each other of using smear tactics. One thing is for sure — both sides have spent a lot of money in the race. Just how much won’t be known until after the election when all the candidates and other groups file their final campaign finance disclosure forms with the state’s Election Law Enforcement Commission.
Bateman recently spoke to NJTV News about the competitiveness of the district and the campaign spending. “We have 11,000 more Democrats in our district than Republicans and this is one of the target districts,” he said. “They’re spending a great deal of money. They’re going to outspend us 3-to-1 because they really think because it’s a split district, that they can win all three seats.”
The Republican slate declined to participate in a debate sponsored by the League of Women Voters. Both sides have offered few details in terms of concrete policies for addressing New Jersey’s challenges.
Bateman, Simon and Caliguire say they oppose tax hikes for the middle class. They argue that the state’s school funding formula needs to be changed to ease some of the burden on suburban towns. They also oppose making New Jersey a sanctuary state for undocumented immigrants with criminal records. They also say state mandates for affordable housing are unreasonable and argue that the mandates will destroy the quality of life by forcing suburban communities to build thousands of new apartments and condos that will overcrowd schools and increase property taxes.
Zwicker, Freiman and Poppe say they will focus on improving our public schools by rewarding good teachers, making pre-school available to more children, and investing in math and science education. They also say they will make college more affordable. They want to invest more state money in farmland preservation, and also want the state to join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. They argue that investing in small businesses and high-tech startups will stimulate economic growth and help make the state more affordable. They support reinstating funding for women’s healthcare services that was cut, and closing the gender wage gap in the state.
Both parties have been focused on election day get-out-the-vote efforts and will use volunteers and hired workers to canvas neighborhoods and knock on doors on Nov. 7.
State Senate Candidates
Kip Bateman (R)
The incumbent Republican senator since 2008, Bateman,was recently described in a MyCentralJersey endorsement as a “rational, moderate voice” for the New Jersey Statehouse. Bateman earned his bachelor’s degree from Ithaca College in political science and history, and his law degree from Seton Hall University. He is a partner in the DiFrancesco, Bateman, Coley, Yospin, Kunzman, Davis & Lehrer law firm. He was an assemblyman from 1994 to 2007 and previously served on the Somerset County Board of Freeholders. Bateman has sponsored laws reducing auto insurance premium costs for policy holders and creating a grant program to fund thermal imaging cameras for fire departments throughout the state. He has been a vocal opponent of the $300 million Statehouse renovation.
Laurie Poppe (D)
Poppe, a divorce lawyer and social worker from Hillsborough, ran unsuccessfully for a seat on the Hillsborough Township Committee in 2015 and 2016. Poppe has served as president of the Mid-Jersey Collaborative Alliance, and co-chair of the Young Lawyers Division of Somerset County. She founded the MOMS Club of Hillsborough and Montgomery. Poppe earned her master’s in social work and her law degree at Rutgers University. On her Facebook page she says she hopes to “hold the line on property taxes” but ensure public schools are fully funded. She also advocates for clean air and drinking water, and says the elderly should be protected by preserving prescription drug programs and by freezing property taxes for senior homeowners.
State Assembly Candidates
Mark Caliguire (R)
The Somerset County freeholder and former Montgomery Township mayor describes himself as a fiscal conservative. The Cornell University and Georgetown Law graduate hopes to follow the footsteps of former Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli, who left his seat to run for governor but lost the primary to Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno. Caliguire, a lawyer, was a deputy attorney general for the New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice from 1987 to 1989. Caliguire has cited the state’s pension crisis as one of the most pressing issues the New Jersey Legislature must address. The current funding system is not sustainable and bi-partisan efforts are needed to fix the pension system, he said.
Roy Freiman (D)
The longtime Hillsborough resident and member of the Hillsborough sustainable steering committee was a vice president in strategy and analytics at Prudential Financial from 1992 to 2016. Freiman earned his bachelor’s degree in business and managerial economics from the State University of New York College in Oneonta. Freiman says he will bring a businessman’s approach to government by providing solutions to “customer” issues. He says he will use the principles of collaboration to find solutions to the state’s economic woes and promote policies that support economic development.
Donna Simon (R)
A familiar face in the Statehouse, Simon represented the 16th district from 2012 to 2015, before Zwicker defeated her by a slim margin. Simon, a Readington Township resident and Kean College graduate, is a registered cardiovascular technologist and a former stay-at-home mother of two.She says her priorities are lowering taxes, eliminating wasteful spending and boosting government transparency. While in office, she sponsored the Transparency in Government Act, which established a state finance website. Simon was also praised by MyCentralJersey in a recent endorsement as an advocate for “fiscal restraint” during her time in Trenton.
Zwicker, a Kingston resident, received his master’s degree and doctorate in physics from Johns Hopkins University. A lifelong Jersey resident, Zwicker is the head of science education at Princeton University’s Plasma Physics Laboratory. He recently supported a package of four bills that would put $65 million into helping towns and counties preserve farmland. During his time in the Statehouse, he also sponsored a bill to authorize loans for environmental infrastructure projects, as well as the bill that prohibits state investment in pensions for companies that boycott Israeli businesses. Zwicker has said his top priorities are expanding the “innovation economy,” making college more affordable, and holding the line on taxes.
Staff reporter Krystal Knapp contributed to this report.