COURT HOUSE – Plenty of theories have been offered to explain how incumbent Republi-can Assemblyman Jack Gibson of Sea Isle City could lose Cape May County by 107 votes to political novice Nelson Albano of Vineland – going on to lose his seat by a whopping 7,151 votes.
But there don’t seem to be many guesses to explain why incumbent Republican Freeholders Dan Beyel and Ralph Sheets won seventh and sixth terms, respectively, by the smallest margin since they took office.
The “target” margin, according to county Re-publican Chairman David Von Savage, had been 3,500.
They got 16,530 and 16,293 votes, respec-tively, to 14,306 for Stephen Barry and 13,913 for Robert Jack-son, a margin of 1,987 to 2,225.
The Republicans had the advantages of the incumbency, plus more money and more work-ers. The Democrats were little known, received scant media attention, and did not seem to have a defining issue.
The GOP position is that this is a blip that signifies nothing for next year, when Leonard Desiderio is expected to seek reelection.
But if there was no anti-freeholder rebellion, why did Republican Sheriff John Callinan and Acting County Clerk Rita Fulginiti win by 5,887 and 6,621, respectively?
“I don’t know how people think when they go to vote,” said Beyel. “The Democrats spent a lot of money. Forrester was not selling well to the voters. Some of President Bush’s policies are under criticism. And there was the screw-up in the Assembly race.
“It was still pretty de-cisive,” he added.
“There were a lot of factors,” said Sheets, “money, a backlash on the president, Corzine put in a lot of money. We’ve got to get our act together and try harder.”
“Bob and I put in a lot of time on the street campaigning,” said Barry. “And there was a good deal of dissatisfac-tion with the incum-bents. People feel they don’t listen and there is a widespread perception that the county is run by a group of insiders for the insiders.”
“There’s a good old boy network,” said Jack-son. “They should hire from within so you keep people’s pay going up and they know what they’re doing.
“We appreciate our visitors,” said Jackson, “but we care about Cape May County residents. There’s a distinction. There has to be a way to have fiscal responsibility and serve the people. Look at what the county takes in and is spend-ing.”
Either Barry or Jackson or both won in the places were Democrats always do well: Cape May Point, Dennis Township, Middle Township, West Cape May, West Wildwood, Wildwood and Wood-bine.
But only 37 percent voted in Wildwood and less than 50 percent in Middle and Lower.
The Democrats won in Lower, where they don’t usually. But Lower Township is a Republi-can disaster area after council gave itself retro-active pay hikes and attempted to fire Man-ager Kathy McPherson, allegedly so they could replace her with Free-holder Gerald M. Thorn-ton. It also is a hotbed of anti-freeholder senti-ment due to some dis-satisfaction with the new county employe contract.
Asked if the results suggested freeholders should do anything dif-ferent, Beyel said, “Not a whole lot. During our campaigning, most we talked to, with very few exceptions, were pleased at how county govern-ment was run.”
Among reasons given for the Albano win and the Van Drew landslide:
> They worked harder.
> They had more money.
> The county GOP as a whole didn’t put forth the effort, whether lazy or overconfident.
> Lack of a running mate hurt Gibson.
> Cumberland killed Gibson, and that in-cluded Republicans angry that they failed to get a running mate on the ballot.
> Corzine’s coat tails.
> Van Drew’s coat tails.
> The appeal of Al-bano’s story (i.e. his son was killed by a drunk driver) resonated with voters regardless of party.
> A general south Jer-sey Democratic tidal wave.
Von Savage denied the party didn’t do its part.
“Our campaign was consistent with the campaign we ran in 2003 for Jack,” he said.
Van Drew ran 192 votes ahead of Gibson in Cape May County two years ago. Last week, he led Gibson by 6,598.
Van Drew got 22,453 in Cape May County, 14,755 in Cumberland and 3,914 in Atlantic.
Albano received 15,962 in Cape May County, 12,906 in Cumberland and 3,451 in Atlantic.
Gibson got 15,855 in Cape May County, 6,956 in Cumberland, and 2,357 in Atlantic.
Cecola received 9,714 in Cape May County, 4,691 in Cumberland, and 1,846 in Atlantic.
The district unofficial totals: Van Drew, 41,122; Albano, 32,319; Gibson, 25,168; Cecola, 16,251.
Gibson told this newspaper he was “sur-prised” by the results. “I felt I still had plenty to offer. I’m disappointed I won’t be able to serve another term.
“I was confident all throughout the cam-paign,” he said, “until the final few days when I realized they were tak-ing advantage of network TV and the spending was a 4-1 advantage for my opponent.
“I thought I ran a good campaign,” said Gibson. “I had a good media program, in qual-ity and quantity. Lack of a running mate was part of it. But I accept the will of the people and wish them good luck.”
The Van Drew jugger-naut was amazing and cut across party lines everywhere. In Cape May County he got 3,624 more voters than the top Republican vote getter, County Clerk Rita Ful-giniti.
He won the district by the largest margin of any Democrat ever. It was the first time a Democrat has been elected to three terms in the Assembly in the First District. Cou-pled with Albano, it was the first time ever that Democrats have filled both Assembly seats.
Few think Van Drew can receive that level of voter approval without looking ahead to either the State Senate or Con-gress.
“I take one day at a time, one year at a time, and one office at a time,” he said. “My goal is to be the best assem-blyman I can be and use my growing seniority to the advantage of the district.”
Contact Zelnik at: Jzelfirstname.lastname@example.org
stay in the know