Don’t count him out: Battered New Jersey lawmaker plots his next move

In one other state, a run for governor would possibly seem to be a pipe dream after such a bitter loss. However New Jersey political insiders aren’t laughing off the concept.

Sweeney has the backing of influential personal sector unions, Democratic powerbroker George Norcross and robust relationships with different Democrats up and down the state. He’d even shored up his relationship with Murphy, placing an finish to a number of years of Democratic infighting.

Sweeney’s success in shifting on from what occurred in November may observe with what occurs this 12 months, when 36 governors, each Home member and far of the Senate are on the poll. It should additionally provide a check of whether or not average Democrats like Sweeney, who represents a largely blue-collar district in southern New Jersey, may present a path for the occasion to rebuild in previously blue communities that turned pink with Donald Trump’s election.


Sweeney’s loss displays an issue Democrats are going through everywhere in the nation: Voter anger fueled by tradition wars and backlash to Covid restrictions is inflicting issues for them in corners they weren’t anticipating, as Republican voters have been turning out in droves. Within the months since his loss, Sweeney and his allies have tried to make sense of how a constituency he so simply gained over 4 years prior voted him out of workplace.

“It’s life, it’s actuality. I feel I’ve executed one of the best I can probably do,” Sweeney mentioned in an interview. “Individuals are simply offended proper now. Very offended. This nation is a catastrophe, sadly. It’s actually unhappy. We’re the best nation on the planet. And all it is about now could be about stopping the opposite facet of making an attempt to get one thing executed.”

On an election evening with loads of troubling indicators for Democrats, Sweeney’s loss — and the losses of his two working mates within the state Meeting — was essentially the most stunning within the nation. Extra stunning even than Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy’s three-point win over Republican Jack Ciattarelli, when polls months earlier predicted a landslide. All of it was seen as an omen for this 12 months’s midterm elections.

Sweeney’s inside polling confirmed him forward by double digits, 4 years after he beat again a Republican who had the assist of the state’s largest lecturers union in what was probably the most costly state legislative race in U.S. historical past. This race, in contrast, escaped even the discover of state Republicans.

“There have been a number of little issues that merely added up and manifested themselves in a collective vote of anger,” mentioned Assemblymember John Burzichelli (D-Gloucester), a working mate of Sweeney’s who misplaced the seat he held for 20 years. “It simply bubbled up organically amongst individuals who have been mad at Murphy for various causes, mad at President Biden for various causes, some nonetheless offended that the earlier presidential election didn’t go Trump’s means. You stir all that collectively and you’ve got motivation.”

Sweeney mentioned he had two pollsters: one had him profitable his district by 15 factors, and Murphy dropping the district by 7 or 8 factors. The opposite pollster had him profitable by 19, and Murphy dropping by 10. Sweeney realized issues had taken a flip when the turnout in his Republican-heavy district got here in sturdy.

“We heard there was a big turnout within the vote, and I’m pondering ‘that may’t be good, actually,’” he mentioned.

On the finish of the day, Sweeney says he thinks he served his folks. Below his tenure they’ve constructed ports in his district and created jobs, grown a college, and made main tax coverage adjustments that the voters needed, comparable to decreasing the retirement earnings tax and eliminating the property tax.

He thinks the numbers replicate that. Finally, Sweeney misplaced in his district by 3 factors. Murphy misplaced by 15.

“South Jersey at all times loves saying we do not get our share. They bought their share with me,” Sweeney mentioned of the area of the state he represents. “It was a tidal wave. It was a pink tidal wave, no method to clarify it.”

Now, Sweeney is wrapping up the two-year legislative session with some massive ticket objects: A invoice that writes abortion rights into regulation in case the Supreme Court docket overturns Roe v. Wade, a invoice codifying similar intercourse marriage and laws that provides tax breaks to Atlantic Metropolis casinos, an incendiary topic in Trenton.

He’ll shut out the session, and his twenty years as a senator, on Tuesday.


Sweeney, who’s 62, has rapid plans for what’s next: making a public coverage assume tank. He’s in talks with universities and anticipates rolling out the venture within the coming months. Sweeney desires the assume tank to be an incubator for coverage concepts, and can deal with the way to make New Jersey extra inexpensive.

Beginning a assume tank can be a tried and true means New Jersey politicians maintain themselves related whereas not formally working for workplace. Earlier than Murphy formally introduced he was working for governor, he arrange a assume tank referred to as New Begin New Jersey that helped him lay the groundwork for a marketing campaign.

Sweeney, for the document, denies he has mentioned he’s working for governor and as an alternative says he’s holding his choices open, and that features one other state Senate run. However a supply mentioned in December that Sweeney had informed dozens of personal labor leaders he was getting ready for the Democratic gubernatorial major in 2025, when Murphy will time period out.

“That is traditional failing upwards,” Sue Altman, government director of the New Jersey Working Households Alliance and one in every of Sweeney’s fiercest critics, mentioned of the senator’s gubernatorial prospects. “Solely in New Jersey, solely among the many politically-connected can a white man with low title recognition who misplaced in a nationwide embarrassment of a race be even permitted to even take into consideration working for greater workplace.”

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