With less than three weeks to go before the pandemic election, which is mostly by mail, Democrats in New Jersey return ballots at a rate ahead of Republicans in some of the state’s most conservative strongholds.
In the north of the countryside, on the shores of Jersey and in the land of horses, Democrats are beating Republicans to the mailbox – and to the box – in an election where each voter was sent a paper ballot to submit by November 3.
In Ocean County, home to more Republicans than anywhere else in the state, nearly 39 percent of registered Democrats voted as of Wednesday, compared with 25 percent of Republicans, according to the county. In the rural district of Sussex, there was almost the same split: more than 39 percent of Democrats returned ballots by Wednesday compared to 24 percent of Republicans.
Although there is a surge in mail voting in many states, New Jersey is one of four states where income levels have already eclipsed 25 percent of the state’s total turnout four years ago.
Pollsters, lawmakers and campaign consultants see this as a manifestation of tensions among Democrats seeking to show their dissatisfaction with the polarizing president and distrust among Republicans about mail voting, a method President Trump attacked without evidence of fraud.
Republican leaders say they expect an increase in the number of personal ballots closer to election day.
“They’re very suspicious of the mail,” said State Sen. Joseph Pennakio, the Republican chairman of the New Jersey presidential campaign, who advised voters to use the boxes. “If you had a $ 100 bill, would you trust putting $ 100 in the mail? Of course not.”
However, two years after the midterm election, in which Democrats turned four seats in the state congress, political analysts say the trend of sending mail could offer more problems for Republicans who are already struggling to maintain support in an increasingly liberal state.
Before Representative Jeff Van Drew changed parties in December, there was only one Republican in Congress representing New Jersey: Chris Smith, who is in his 20th term. Mr. Van Drew, a vocal opponent of the president’s impeachment, is now fighting for his political life against Amy Kennedy, the first candidate and former teacher who is married to President John F. Kennedy’s nephew.
A poll released this month showed Ms. Kennedy having a five-point advantage in a Conservative-backed Conservative constituency that the president won in 2016.
But it is a competition between state Senator Tom Keane Jr. and Representative Tom Malinowski – in the area that crosses the northern part of New Jersey – which many observers are watching most closely.
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Mr. Keane, a Republican, is the son of Thomas Keane, a respected former governor who led the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks; Mr. Malinowski is a freshman Democrat elected in 2018 as part of the so-called “blue wave” directed against Mr. Trump.
Given Senator Keane’s recognition of his name and family ties, the outcome of the race, according to Cook’s political report, which is likely to be “prone to democracy,” is seen as something of a litmus test for centrist Republicans.
“Tom Malinowski scandalizes Keane?” asked Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Survey Institute.
“And does that mean that Republican brand Tom Keane Sr. is dead?” he added.
County clergy were required to send ballots to each registered voter in New Jersey no later than October 5. In many parts of the state, election officials began issuing ballots in mid-September, allowing voters to cast their ballots more than a month earlier. Election day by mail, to the polling station or safe box.
Residents can also hand out paper ballots on November 3 to their polling station or election commission; people with disabilities may be asked to use voting machines.
As in other states, Trump’s campaign has sued in New Jersey to try to block mail and early ballot counting, which is expected to begin in just over a week.
Mr Pennacchio said the transition to paper ballots was a political power exercised by Democrats dressed as a security necessity linked to the pandemic.
“There’s no reason in the world why New Jersey can’t vote in person,” Mr Pennacchio said, noting that people were still queuing up in shops and near car offices. This week, Democrat Gov. Philip D. Murphy also allowed full-fledged winter sports, such as basketball and wrestling, to begin in schools.
Mr. Pennakkio, a Brooklyn-born dentist and one-time Democrat who now helps lead the Republican Party in Morris County, called Mr. Trump a “poster boy for traditional values” who has not lost sight of his constituents.
“He can sometimes cut the king’s English, and God knows he tweets too much, but he’s in my back,” Mr Pennacchio said. “When he went to Washington, he took me with him.”
Ballots offer only an early snapshot of voters’ reactions to the broadest mail test in New Jersey, and their numbers are changing every day.
But the level of income raised eyebrows among ordinary Republicans.
In Hunterdon County, Republicans control the county government and outnumber Democrats by about 13,000 voters. But by the end of last week, 43 percent of registered Democrats had voted against 25 percent of Republicans in Mr Malinowski’s constituency.
“It shows that there is a real passion,” said Christine Todd Whitman, a Republican from Hunterdon County and the only woman elected governor of New Jersey.
Ms. Whitman is a vocal opponent of Mr. Trump and the leader of Republican and Independent MPs Biden, a group that backed former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. as president.
If Mr Trump loses, Ms Whitman said, his supporters will fall into the party’s wing and the centrists can begin rebuilding. If he wins, the job will be harder, she said, but not impossible.
“We’re going to have to work hard to get it back, but that doesn’t mean it’s dead,” Ms. Whitman said of the party, which once, like her father and grandparents, helped run it.
“We’re not going to stop trying to give the American people a central party,” she added, “because that’s where most people are.”
But support in New Jersey for the Trump-style Republican Party is also clearly demonstrated in the President’s full-scale embrace of Republicans in close congressional swing rallies and violent presidential rallies.
In February, a campaign in the style of Mr. Trump’s election campaign in Wildwood, New Jersey, gathered thousands of ardent fans, many of whom withstood the frosty temperature, waiting in line for two days. On Labor Day weekend, supporters of the president gathered near the coast for the flotilla, which participants estimated drew 2,400 boats.
In a televised debate last week, Mr. Van Drew read Mr. Trump’s views on issues such as immigration, police and the origins of the coronavirus, which Mr. Van Drew said “probably came from a laboratory – we don’t know if it was genetically mutated.” “. Scientists and US intelligence agencies agree that it is extremely likely that the virus evolved in nature.
David Richter, a Republican running for Andy Kim, a Democratic congressman who won a narrow victory to change his seat in 2018, treated the president with contempt after being ousted from Congress for Mr. Van Drew. party switch. But now, after he rented a house in a nearby neighborhood to challenge Mr. Kim, his fundraising website admits that he “proudly supports President Trump.”
New Jersey is one of four states where the return on ballots returns is already more than 25 percent of the total turnout in 2016, according to a U.S. election project, an information center run by Michael MacDonald, a professor at the University of Florida.
Jesse Burns, executive director of the Non-Partisan League of Women Voters in New Jersey, said she believes the rise in votes is directly linked to the pandemic.
This year, voters are revived not only by tent races, she said, but also by local school and district legislatures, which have become much more relevant to their daily lives as residents try to find sites to test for viruses or adapt them to remote education.
“People are aware that they are making decisions about how their children will go to school,” Ms. Burns said.
John Frundjian, executive director of the William J. Hughes Center for Public Policy at Stockton University, pointed to the July primary, when even candidates who had no opponents received a record number of votes.
Votes for Donald Norcross, a Democrat who ran without opposition in the electoral party, were twice as high as two years ago, when he had two candidates. Mr. Kim, who had no main opponent, received 79,423 votes, ahead of 58,582 votes cast for Mr. Richter and his opponent Kate Gibbs, who were in a tough fight for the Republican nomination.
“All these signs show a high level of enthusiasm,” said Professor Frundjian. “As if they can’t wait for the vote.”