SOUTH BRUNSWICK, NJ – As Republican Assemblywoman Donna Simon and Democratic challenger Andrew Zwicker await the outcome of their super-tight race in the 16th District, one point is clear no matter how cliché, every vote matters.
Zwicker is currently leading the incumbent by 61 votes with all provisional votes counted in three of the four counties making up the district.
Middlesex County will count its votes, all from South Brunswick, at some time Monday, according to officials.
GOP incumbent Jack Ciatarelli will return to Trenton by winning the most votes in last week’s election with 16,567, and Democratic challenger Maureen Vella was turned away by voters with 16,020, only 547 votes away from Ciatarelli’s high.
In the middle, the battle really heated up with Zwicker at 16,283 and Simon at 16,222 with 51 votes still to be counted in Middlesex County.
South Brunswick is the only municipality from that county in the district.
Zwicker, a South Brunswick resident and director at the Princeton University Plasma Physics Lab, ended up 29 votes ahead as of Tuesday night.
Provisional ballots in three of the four counties counted during the week increased his lead to 61 as of Sunday morning.
If he were to hold on, he would be the first Democrat to represent the district, ever.
The Republican stronghold reformed following the 2010 census by adding heavily Democratic South Brunswick and Princeton in Mercer County to make it more competitive.
In the three election cycles since the change, Democrats have edged closer and closer to splitting the district.
Even so, Tuesday’s result, and possible Democratic upset, flew under the radar of most pundits throughout the state, who believed it would stay in Republican hands.
“I’m really proud of our grassroots campaign,” a hopeful Zwicker said Sunday. “It really shows that every vote counts.”
For Zwicker, it has been a real roller coaster ride of emotions, from actually conceding the race with Vella around 11 p.m. Tuesday night at Conte’s in Princeton, to looking more and more as if he will get Simon’s seat in the assembly.
Simon said Saturday that she is waiting to see what happens when all the votes are counted, only then deciding if she will ask for a recount, or challenge the results.
Only 23 percent of the district’s 143,404 registered voters, or 32,546, went to the polls Tuesday, according to official figures from the counties and the state.
Democrats gained 4,000 registered voters on Republicans following the reformation, but the district’s largest share of voters comes from 69,932 unaffiliated residents, according to the state.
Only 0.84 percentage points separate all four candidates, and the difference between Zwicker and Simon is currently only 0.09 percent, according to the results.
The “bump” that could have put Zwicker over the top may have actually had more to do with the South Brunswick Board of Education race.
Incumbents Barry Nathanson and Peter St. Vincent were returned to the body with 2,548 and 2,380 votes respectively.
Board President Dr. Stephen Parker also won re-election with 2,239 votes.
Both Nathanson and St. Vincent are aligned with the athletics part of the district which has gained seats on the board in recent years with Dan Boyle and Pat DelPiano.
Zwicker, whose son Matt Golden played football for SBHS, and his daughter who plays varsity sports as well, are well known amongst those in that particular clique.
The SBHS athletic vote could have given Zwicker the advantage in the overall race.
Both the Republicans and Democrats conducted primarily “quiet” campaigns this cycle consisting of knocking on thousands of doors in the district and mailings to voters.
Neither side appeared to spend a lot of money on the race.
Zwicker said Sunday that Democrats did not spend much on the race because it seemed that the district would likely stay Republican.
The Zwicker/Vella campaign did benefit, however, from two Princeton events that brought out State Senate President Steven Sweeney, D-Camden, U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, D-NJ, U.S. Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman, D-12, and several other Democratic elected officials from the state and Mercer County.
Voters leaving the polls in South Brunswick on Tuesday said that they couldn’t define any particular issues that they wanted addressed, but felt it was their obligation to cast their ballots.
“It’s important for people to vote in any election,” Bruce Feldman of Kendall Park said as he left the polling site at the Community Center in Woodlot Park. “It is a right our veterans have fought and died for.”
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