When former collector Joan Downey (D-Freehold) lost last month, it was painfully close edge. If she won another 348 voters – many of whom had already voted for State Senator Vin Gopal (D-Long) – she would have prevailed over the current assembly of Kim Julner (R-Shrewsbury) and would have served another term.
Pad new lines likely to be approved today by the Legislative Distribution Commission, Downey would likely succeed. Redrawn the 11th district, which corresponds to the district proposed by Democrats last week swapped the West Long Branch, which leans toward Republicans, for the more competitive Bradley Beach and Fair Haven, cutting Jack Chattarelli’s gubernatorial advantage in the county from three points to two.
This may seem insignificant, but it is a net gain of about 700 votes for Democrats, which is more than twice as long as it took Downey to win re-election. Even former MP Eric Hautaling (D-Neptune), who received another 275 votes from Downey, could win in the new lines.
Of course, the past remains the past, and Olner and collector member Marilyn Piperna (R-Colts Neck) are duly elected acting leaders; Long time no see who was nominated be a judge of the workers’ compensation court last month, in any case unlikely to force himself to re-elect. But as Gopal prepares to run for re-election in 2023 after a comparative victory an impressive four-point margin last year, seemingly minor changes could have serious consequences.
Downey and Houtaling first arrived in the Assembly through their own frustrations, barely defeating Assemblies Mary Pat Angelini (R-Ocean Township) and Carolyn Casagrande (R-Colts Neck) in 2015. Gopal arrived two years later, removing state senator Jennifer Beck (R-Red Bank), making the trio the only three Legislative Democrats representing any part of Monmouth or Ocean counties.
However, the county will never be completely closed to Democrats, and while Downey and Houtaling won again in 2019, the likelihood that Democrats will lose the only weak foothold in Monmouth County has always been on the table.
As both parties begin preparations for 2023, Republicans hope to finish what they started and cancel a seat in the county senate, while Gopal is undoubtedly eager to form a new Assembly list and work to regain the county.
The new boundaries of the 11th district mean that both opportunities are very important. But minor changes to the new legislative map mean that, at least compared to 2021, Democrats have a small footing that could be all they need.