Jack Ciattarelli
BRIDGEWATER, NEW JERSEY - NOVEMBER 02: New Jersey Republican gubernatorial candidate Jack Ciattarelli greets supporters in a hotel ballroom at his watch party on November 02, 2021 in Bridgewater, New Jersey. The race between Ciattarelli and his Democratic incumbent Phil Murphy was too close to call by the end of the night. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

On Election Day 2021, Republican truck driver Edward Durr Jr. shocked the political world by unseating incumbent New Jersey State Senate President Steve Sweeney. Durr defeated Sweeney in a close race in New Jersey’s 3rd State Senate District. Amazingly, Durr spent only a combined $2,300 between himself and his two Assembly running mates. Sweeney at first refused to concede the race to Durr, saying many thousands of ballots are still outstanding. He eventually conceded, though. It looks as though Sweeney’s loss will be official soon and Durr will go on to represent the district. The question now becomes: how did a GOP truck driver unseat one of New Jersey’s most powerful Democrats? Furthermore, has the Democratic Party neglected working people enough to lose races such as this next year? And above all, what are the ramifications of this win come the 2022 Midterm Elections?

How Did Durr Defeat Sweeney?

There is likely a laundry list of reasons to explain Steve Sweeney’s loss in New Jersey. From the difficult political environment for Democrats in 2021 to higher Republican turnout to a closer than expected governor’s race, many reasons can be asserted as to why the GOP truck driver prevailed. The simplest reason is a historically good year for Republicans and a district that is moving to the right. New Jersey’s 3rd State Senate District, which includes Salem, Cumberland, and Glouster Counties, is a swing district to begin with. This coupled with the fact that U.S. Representative Jeff Van Drew (a Democrat turned Republican and ally of former President Trump) also represents much of the district means that Sweeney was never going to have an easy time getting reelected. Additionally, former President Barrack Obama won Van Drew’s district in 2012, but Trump won it in both 2016 and 2020.

So with an electorate moving towards the Republican Party, Sweeney was going to have his work cut out for him. What no one saw coming was that a well-funded Democrat could lose to an opponent that spent almost nothing. The only explanation for this is that people had their minds made up well ahead of time in Sweeney’s district. This was likely caused by factors that were out of the hands of Sweeney, including President Joe Biden’s sagging approval rating, the lack of economic progress since Biden took office, the still-raging Covid-19 Pandemic, and several others. For Durr, he simply ran as a “blue-collar” guy who was a political outsider. By contrast, Sweeney is a born and raised career politician who has served in the State Senate for 20 years. In the end, it seems voters came out to support GOP candidates, and as a result, helped Durr defeat Sweeney.

Have Democrats Left Working People Behind?

Almost immediately after Ed Durr’s win, pundits started to question whether or not the Democratic Party has neglected working people. This is because Sweeney is a career politician who has been New Jersey’s State Senate President for over ten years. On the other hand, Durr is a political newcomer who has never held elected office. These elements, along with Sweeney’s changing district, helped propel Durr. But the question remains, are Democrats losing working people, especially white working people? Recent political trends have shown college-educated voters trending more towards the Democratic Party while blue-collar individuals or those without a college degree are now more likely to vote for Republicans.

For Sweeney, he represents a district of mostly blue-collar white voters, a far cry from Northern New Jersey. It seems Sweeney neglected to appeal to these voters in his reelection campaign. Even with Durr spending minimally on his own campaign, Sweeney’s inaction was enough to sway voters for Durr. The Democratic Party, both locally and nationally, is dealing with infighting between Moderates and Progressives over spending and other matters. It seems this discontent with normal working people and lack of campaigning on kitchen table issues has cost Democrats several races, including this one. No one really expected Sweeney to lose, with polls showing him comfortably leading in the run-up to Election Day. But with his lack of focus on workers, it seems he and perhaps Democrats more broadly will suffer come 2022.

What Are The Ramifications Come 2022?

While one State Senate Race may not dictate a pattern for next year’s Midterm Elections, it does offer some clues. For one thing, Republican candidates across the board did well in 2021. From municipal races to state-wide elections, the GOP overperformed just about all expectations. They even flipped Virginia’s Governor’s Mansion, with Glenn Youngkin defeating Terry McAuliffe. Despite this, House Democrats were finally able to pass the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill shortly after Election Day. Many have said had it been passed earlier, it may have made a difference. Regardless, everything Biden can accomplish between now and 2022 will be necessary if he hopes to avoid another 2021 “shellacking”. As of now, the generic Republican congressional candidate has an 8% advantage over their generic Democratic counterparts according to a recent Suffolk USA Today Poll. If this lead holds, Democrats will be in grave danger of holding their slim majorities in Congress.

The race between Sweeney and Durr also shows that perhaps Republican candidates can be more successful than many would have thought due to former President Trump’s outsized influence. While Trump himself did not wade into this race, he still lurked as a presence many Republicans had to address. By being out of the White House, Trump did not have the kind of effect of drawing Democrats and Independents to the polls to vote against Republicans. This is one of the main reasons Durr and other GOP candidates did so well this year. If the GOP is successful in continuing to navigate Trump, they will be looking at massive gains in 2022. Many strategists, however, believe Trump will have a much larger presence in the Midterms and thus negate this Republican momentum. That may be true, but GOP gains this year will certainly be a factor in next year’s crucial elections.

The Truck Driver Elect Roundup

With Ed Durr’s stunning win in New Jersey, many are now questioning just how well Republicans can do come 2022. Durr was able to defeat Steve Sweeney by simply being an outsider appealing to working-class people in a Republican year. He spent almost nothing on his campaign but won anyway in large part due to Democratic infighting. The 2021 Election in its entirety showed that Republican candidates can do well by having a platform, being an outsider, and most importantly, casting Democrats as out of touch with the American people. Durr was able to accomplish some of this, and the career politician Sweeney did the rest. So as the all-important 2022 Midterm Elections loom, races such as this will be studied to replicate winning coalitions. One year out, anything is possible, but whatever party focuses on the issues people care about will likely be victorious.

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