TRENTON, NJ (AP/WCBS 880) - New Jersey Democrats ceded little if any ground to Republicans in the legislative elections, despite the popularity of Gov. Chris Christie and the millions of dollars he raised for the state GOP.
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Christie was expected to face questions about his party's performance at an appearance on Wednesday.
Democratic incumbents staved off Republican challenges in the two most competitive Senate races on Tuesday, denying bragging rights to Christie at the southern and northern ends of the state. The Republicans' most recognizable name - Megan's Law advocate Richard Kanka - also lost his Senate bid.
"The Christie effect was not there,'' said Sen. Bob Gordon, who won a hard-fought re-election campaign in Bergen County.
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Gordon edged out Freeholder Chairman John Driscoll Jr. in Bergen's 38th District. The Christie-backed challenger rode the governor's coattails to a win in 2009.
A Democrat also prevailed for Senate in Atlantic County's 2nd District. Sen. Jim Whelan, a public school swim teacher and one-time Atlantic City mayor, staved off Republican Vince Polistina, a municipal engineer who gave up his Assembly seat for a chance to move to the upper house.
Both Democrats appear to have won Assembly seats in Bergen County. Republicans held both Assembly seats in Atlantic County, ensuring local representation will remain politically split.
No legislative incumbent appeared to have lost, though races for three Assembly seats in two southern New Jersey districts were too close to declare winners Tuesday night. The best Democrats could do is gain one Assembly seat; the best possible outcome for Republicans is a net gain of two.
In South Jersey, Democratic incumbent Matthew Milam was slightly ahead of two Republican challengers; in Burlington, Democratic incumbent Herb Conaway and running mate Troy Singleton were ahead of Republicans Christopher Halgas and Jim Keenan.
Voters in New Jersey also approved a ballot question to legalize sports betting at casinos and race tracks, provided a federal ban is lifted.
"Tonight is a great night for New Jersey Democrats,'' party Chairman John Wisniewski said Tuesday night. "New Jersey voters, once again, have returned Democrats to our state Legislature in overwhelming numbers.''
Christie repeatedly downplayed expectations for Republicans in the weeks leading up to the election, but he campaigned in districts where Republicans thought they had a chance, hoping to chip away at Democrats' firm grasp on the Legislature. Heading into Tuesday, Democrats controlled the Senate 24-16 and the Assembly 47-33.
"It's not a referendum on my governorship,'' Christie declared.
The state's 40 legislative districts, redrawn this year to reflect population shifts recorded in last year's census, favored incumbents.
Christie had said he'd consider the midterm elections a win for the GOP if the party did not lose any seats. He said every governor in the past 48 years except Democrat Jim McGreevey lost seats during the midterms.
The Republican State Committee, flush with cash thanks to Christie's ability to raise money, had spent $2.2 million as of Oct. 17, compared with $689,000 spent by the Democratic State Committee, election reports showed.
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