Uncontested races dominate upcoming New Jersey legislative primaries

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June 1, 2011

By: Geoff Pallay

New Jersey

TRENTON, New Jersey: Next Tuesday, New Jersey’s Democratic and Republican candidates face party primaries in order to qualify for the November 8 general election. Each district holds two parallel primaries to select major party nominees. However, in the majority of districts, voters might as well stay home, given the lack of contested primaries.

New Jersey has 40 legislative districts, leaving 80 possible primaries in each chamber -- 40 Democratic and 40 Republican. In the Senate, a primary is "contested" when at least two candidates are competing for their respective party’s nomination. In the General Assembly, a contested primary will feature at least 3 candidates since the top-2 vote getters advance to the general election.

There are only 9 contested primaries out of the 80 primaries in the Senate. In the General Assembly, only 15 of the 80 primaries are contested. All told, only 24 out of the 160 primaries on June 7 (15%) will require voters to choose between multiple candidates. In the remaining 136 primaries (85%), the candidate (or candidates in the New Jersey General Assembly) automatically advance to the general election.

Previous elections and primaries

3Competitive 2011.jpg

How does this coming primary compare to prior years' levels of competition? The table below compares the 2007, 2009 and 2011 primary candidate lists according to the following factors:

  1. Was there an incumbent in the primary? If not, this was considered "Open"
  2. Was the primary "contested," as described above, meaning at least one candidate would ultimately "lose" the primary

The table breaks down the variables by political party as well.

Major findings:

  • Total contested primaries have increased from 18 in 2007 to 24 in 2011
  • While the number of incumbents contested has increased from 10 in 2007 to 12 in 2011, the number of uncontested incumbents has grown even more. In 2007, 53 incumbents were uncontested but 63 will advance straight to the general election in 2011 due to a decrease in open seats.
  • The total number of uncontested primaries has stayed largely the same -- 135 in 2007 and 132 in 2011.
  • When combining all 400 primaries over the past 3 elections, 322 -- or 80.5% -- of all primaries have been uncontested.

Note: In 2009, only the General Assembly held elections. Senators are elected to four-year terms (except in the year after redistricting, like 2011, when they receive two-year terms).

Comparing Contested Primaries of past three NJ Elections
Democrats Republicans Total
2007 2009 2011 2007 2009 2011 2007 2009 2011
Open contested 4 0 2 4 6 10 8 6 12
Open uncontested 36 15 29 46 17 40 82 32 69
Incumbent contested 7 9 8 3 8 4 10 17 12
Incumbent uncontested 33 16 38 20 7 25 53 23 63
Total contested 11 9 10 7 14 14 18 23 24
Total uncontested 69 31 67 66 24 65 135 55 132
No Candidates 0 0 3 7 2 1 7 2 4

2011 breakdown

  • Senate Incumbents
  • Of the senate's 40 incumbents, 36 are running for re-election. Of these 36 incumbents, 31 will not face a primary opponent. The remaining five incumbents will face a primary challenger. Of these incumbents three are Democrats and two are Republicans.
  • Assembly Incumbents
  • There are 64 total incumbents running in the 2011 General Assembly elections. Of the state’s 80 multi-member assembly primaries, an incumbent is running in 39 of them. Of these 39 primaries, only seven are contested. Five are Democratic and two are Republican.
  • Senate Open Primaries
  • An open primary occurs whenever an incumbent is not running. This can result from the incumbent’s retiring or being a member of another political party. There are 44 open primaries in the State Senate, 27 are Republican, 17 are Democratic.
Of the 27 open Republican primaries, only 4 are contested. Of the 17 open Democratic primaries, none are contested.
  • Assembly Open Primaries
  • Of the 80 assembly primaries, 41 had no incumbent running. Of these 41, 24 are Republican and 17 are Democratic. Of the 24 open Republican primaries, only 6 are contested. Of the 17 open Democratic primaries, only 2 are contested.

According to a Ballotpedia study earlier this year, 19 candidates either withdrew or were disqualified after initially declaring for Tuesday's primary. Had these candidates stayed in the race, then the number of candidates facing primary challengers would be higher.

The 24 contested primaries are:

Comparison to prior elections

Compared to the two most recent elections in New Jersey (2007 and 2009) the list of candidates this year is only marginally different with respect to competitiveness. While there are two more contested primaries overall, there are 9 more incumbents who are uncontested in this year’s primary than there were in 2007.

Comparing Overall Competitiveness of past three NJ Elections
2007 2009 2011
Total seats up for election 120 80 120
Total open seats 34 8 21
Open seats % 28.3% 11.25% 17.50%
Total incumbents without primary 70 43 51
Incumbents w/out primary % 81.4% 63.38% 82.83%
Total candidates with no major party opposition 10 4 4
No major party opposition % 8.33% 5% 5.83%

Comparison to other states

Last year, we conducted a competitiveness analysis of all 46 states that held state legislative elections.

Here is how the 2011 New Jersey elections would have stacked up to the 46 states measured in the 2010 index.

  • Primaries: With 82.83% of incumbents running unopposed in primaries, New Jersey would have been the 26th most competitive state in this variable, just above Indiana and below Illinois.

Therefore, New Jersey would have been tied for 10th with Utah in last year's overall competitiveness index.


The impact of redistricting will also be felt by incumbents who were moved to different districts. There are eight current incumbents who, for this study, are considered challengers because they will be running in a different district from the one they currently represent. Those eight incumbents are:

State Senate Republican

  1. Jennifer Beck
  2. Sean Kean

General Assembly Democratic

  1. Reed Gusciora


No legislators fit this category.

Ballotpedia note: Kevin Diana, Justin Haas, Tyler King and Tyler Millhouse contributed to this report.

See also

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