End Of An Era

End Of An Era

State Senate President Steve Sweeney Upset By Unknown Truck Driver

By David Todd McCarty | Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Senate President Steve Sweeney, the second most powerful man in the state of New Jersey, has officially lost his seat to an unknown political neophyte, in an upset possibly even more dramatic than how close Governor Murphy was to being ousted himself. 

Edward Durr, a 58-year old Logan Township truck driver for the furniture store Raymour & Flanigan, says he spent $153 on his race, mostly on coffee and business cards. According to Politico, in 2017, when the New Jersey Education Association was feuding with Sweeney, it spent about $5.4 million to attempt to unseat him, yet he still won by 18 points. 

According to campaign finance filings, Durr, along with a slate of Republican candidates, spent a little over $2,300, but it wasn’t clear how much was spent on Durr’s race alone. Sweeney and his Assembly running mates had spent more than $1 million as of late October, records show. Those races are still close to call, but it appears that they will also lose their seats to Republican challengers who ran with Durr.

Steve Sweeney has been closely tied to South Jersey power broker George Norcross, who some would argue is actually the most powerful person in New Jersey. They have often feuded with the Governor over his agenda, as well as progressives throughout the state who did not appreciate their stranglehold on party politics in the state. If you wanted to get anything done in the state, you had to go through Norcross and Sweeney, and that included the Governor. Together, they controlled the Democratic Party in New Jersey, and so controlled the state.

Despite a close race, Governor Phil Murphy has held onto his office, being the first Democratic Governor to win reelection in New Jersey in 44 years. Sweeney, on the other hand, was the longest-serving Senate President in the state’s history, ruling the State Senate with absolute authority for two decades. 

The Republicans finally did what they were unable to do, which was to motivate people in the district to vote. In an August interview, Durr told conservative commentator Elizabeth Nader, “I’m a numbers guy and I’ve looked at the numbers over the years. We have a district that is 150,000 voters. Senator Sweeney has never broken 32,000 votes…and so I felt if he can’t even get half the district, that means there are numbers out there to be taken, and you just have to get people to come out and vote. I believe if they come out and vote, we could win.”

Durr won the race by about 2,200 votes, or four percentage points, out of 62,000 votes cast. 

The defeat of Sweeney came, no doubt, as a welcome surprise to many of the state’s progressives, who have long fought to dethrone the powerful Senate President. But Durr is probably not the answer they were looking for. 

Durr calls himself a “constitutional conservative” who was motivated to get into politics because he couldn’t get a permit to carry a concealed weapon. He has said he believes that abortion “is wrong and should be stopped,” and has criticized vaccine mandates and masking children in schools. 

Despite a lot of pearl-clutching over the Democratic loss in Virginia, which follows historical precedent. Eleven of the past 12 Virginia governors were elected from the opposite party of the incumbent president. Even here in New Jersey, where most polls had Murphy leading by double digits, a close race shouldn’t have been surprising given that no Democratic governor there has won reelection since 1977.

According to the latest results, the Democrats won 21 seats in the State Senate, with the Republicans winning 14. Five seats still remained undecided. Only two seats appeared to have flipped, Sweeney’s Third District and the Eight District where Republican-turned-Democrat Sen. Dawn Marie Addiego seems to be in danger of losing her seat to Republican Assemblywoman Jean Stanfield. 

Overall, it wasn’t a huge upset or change in the division of power in the state, but Democrats had hoped to perform better than historical norms. In the Assembly, Democrats had won 40, with 26 going to Republicans and another 14 seats remaining undecided, but it did appear that as many as eight seats were in danger of being won by Republicans.

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