N.J. election 2019: Assembly’s top Republican declares victory in tight race

By Brent Johnson and Matt Arco from NJ Advance Media for NJ.com

State Assembly MInority Leader Jon Bramnick, R-Union, declares victory Tuesday night, surrounded by running mate Nancy Munoz (left) and state Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean Jr., at the Italian American Club in Westfield.Aristide Economopoulos | NJ Advance Media

State Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick, New Jersey’s second-highest ranking Republican state lawmaker, told a crowd of cheering supporters that he had held onto his seat by fighting off a fierce challenge in the Garden State’s most-watched legislative election Tuesday night.

Bramnick, R-Union, was seeking to avoid becoming the first top New Jersey state legislative leader to be ousted at the ballot box since 1993.

He and his longtime district mate, Assemblywoman Nancy Munoz, also R-Union, told supporters they had won their races. The Associated Press had not yet declared them victors as of 11 p.m.

It came on a night when Republicans appeared poised to gain four overall seats in the Democratic-controlled Assembly, while also flipping a South Jersey seat in the Democratic-controlled state Senate. The AP, however, said a few key races were still too close to call.

Bramnick — a 66-year-old attorney who moonlights as a standup comedian — was running for re-election to represent North Jersey’s 21st legislative district district in the Assembly, the lower house of the New Jersey Legislature, the body that crafts the state’s laws and helps decide how taxpayer money is spent in the state district.

He’s held the seat since 2003 and has been the chamber’s Republican leader since 2012.

Bramnick and Munoz staved off Democratic challengers Lisa Mandelblatt and Stacey Gunderman, who tried to take advantage of the state’s changing demographics to flip the district blue.

They also deflected a challenge from former Scotch Plains Mayor Martin Marks and Harry Pappas, who called themselves “independent conservatives” and threatened to siphon votes from Republicans.

Bramnick told supporters in Westfield that “common sense prevailed.”

“We can be reasonable, we can be bipartisan, we can be smart, as long as we respect the taxpayers of the state,” he said during a victory speech at the town’s Italian American Club. “We’re gonna continue up and down this state to bring the right message, which is: Let’s respect each other and let’s do it in a civil way.”

“I’m gonna be around for a while,” Bramnick added.

The district — which includes parts of Morris, Somerset, and Union counties — is a prime example of the ever-deepening blue wave that has swept across the Garden State in recent years. Once a Republican stronghold, the 21st now has more registered Democrats than Republicans.

Bramnick and Munoz won re-election two years ago by only a few percentage points. They faced an even tough challenge this time.

Democrats hammered the lawmakers over their voting record on gun control and Planned Parenthood, as well as for their alliance with Republican former Gov. Chris Christie, who left office with historically low approval ratings. Bramnick was long one of Christie’s closest allies.

They were also also hampered by the Jersey backlash against Republican President Donald Trump — even though Bramnick tried to distance himself from Trump by branding himself “a moderate and reasonable” lawmaker.

Bramnick also pitched himself and fellow Republicans as a needed buffer against Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy and warned that taxes would keep rising in New Jersey without them. The GOP branded Tuesday’s Assembly elections as the “Murphy midterms,” coming two years into the Democrat’s tenure.

“Phil Murphy has had a honeymoon. His honeymoon is over,” Bramnick told NJ Advance Media after Tuesday’s results.

“It’s not about Donald Trump. It’s not about Chris Christie. It’s about Phil Murphy,” the lawmaker added.

Munoz said as she went door to door this campaign, many residents told her: “You have to help me afford to live here.”

“It’s about the affordability in the state of New Jersey,” she said. “Every single person said ‘I can’t afford the taxes.’”