Editor’s note: This post was written in response to New Jersey Globe articles analyzing the results voter turnout in Newark and comparing turnout in Maplewood, Millburn and South Orange.

The road to 2025 is already heating up in New Jersey. New Jersey insiders are notorious for picking their favorites and trying to get formidable opponents out of the way. But this strategy is predictable, tired and stale. One prime example is the recent effort to target Mayor Russ Baraka for his city’s low turnout in what are arguably safe races. It’s a misfire at best. If anything, such early criticism only strengthens Baraka’s strong chances for a potential statewide run.

The city of Newark, the state’s largest municipality and a stronghold of the Democratic Party in any statewide election. Still, critics are now trying to point to the lower-than-usual numbers in the mayoral race, but ignore the well-known fact that this is a typical scenario for incumbents, especially those few who easily win a third term. They also note the low numbers in the following races, but conveniently gloss over the fact that there was little to no competition between them. It’s fair to assume that Newarkers simply weren’t as anxious about the potential leadership change looming over their heads as many others in the state and across the country. In any case, these insiders are coming out of the gate with attacks a little earlier than usual, which only shows that they are afraid of potential challengers like Barack, and very early.

Ongoing voter engagement is incredibly important, especially in a state like New Jersey, where we are one of only two states in the country to have at-large elections each year. For example, in 2021, Governor Murphy was surprisingly faced with close race, despite being the sitting president, the state’s chief spokesman during the pandemic, and the owner of a significant military treasure. Looking ahead to 2025, none of the rumored democratic hopefuls have these assets at their disposal. In addition, Murphy was able to stay in the state’s top office thanks to black and brown voters, especially those who came from Newark region.

With all of this in mind, Democrats and like-minded progressives will need to focus their efforts on uniting around the issues that concern our country: women’s reproductive rights, the high cost of living, jobs and more. The 2022 midterm elections just showed us that if we work on these values, we can prevent a red tide. And thanks to recent Supreme Court decisions, states have gained more power over our personal liberties, making New Jersey’s race for Drumwaket critical.

Not to mention that the Party will have to make room for a whole new and rising generation of younger voters who care less about partisanship and care more about issues like climate change, student debt, voting rights, social justice, and so on. Activating and engaging this audience will require an all-hands-on-deck approach, and one that will undoubtedly require a voice like that of Baraka and the voters of Newark.

Which brings us back to the unnecessary bogus attack on the very important electorate of Newark. This “insider strategy” of picking on a core group of voters that EVERY statewide candidate will claim would be laughable if it weren’t so damn disrespectful. Real politicians from across the state know very well that trying to count out Ras Baraka and the community behind him so early is ill-advised and very unfortunate. No one has to deal with friendly fire while the real opposition laughs all the way to West State Street. So let’s clarify, you will be need Ras Baraka’s support to get there – either way.

Larry Humm is an advisor to Newark Mayor Russ Baraka.

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