TRENTON – Despite redistricting changes that helped three of four Democratic incumbents in swing districts in New Jersey, Republicans exited the primary in June believing that an advantageous political environment could fuel big gains in the state this year.

They still hope so. But things seem to have changed significantly in the last three months, with Democrats now feeling more confident about holding onto most or all of what they have gained in recent election cycles.

The party that’s out of power – right now, the Republicans – generally has a motivational edge in midterm elections. A few months ago, with gas prices spiking and overall inflation on top of that, a tremendous year seemed to be shaping up for them.

But since June, with gas prices moving back down and the Supreme Court overturning the nationwide right to an abortion, that has changed, says political scientist Micah Rasmussen, director of the Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics at Rider University.

'Both sides have reason to be enthusiastic'

“Democrats have gotten more engaged as well, and now it’s looking more like that 2018 environment where both sides have reason to be enthusiastic,” Rasmussen said.

Redistricting had already fortified the chances for Democratic incumbents Josh Gottheimer, Andy Kim and Mikie Sherrill, as the adjustments to the map boundaries to rebalance their populations also tilted those districts’ voter registration composition toward Democrats.

Rasmussen said the voter registration composition in both the 3rd and 11th Districts shifted 50,000 toward the Democrats, while the 5th District moved 40,000 in their direction. Among swing districts, only the 7th District moved toward Republicans in redistricting, by a net of around 30,000 voters.

“It takes a lot to knock off an incumbent, and there are reasons for them to be enthusiastic and optimistic everywhere really except for that 7th District,” Rasmussen said.

Rasmussen said three months ago, he’d have said Kean was the favorite in the race. That’s less pronounced now.

“But I think that there’s still a lean,” he said. “You can’t really deny that Tom Kean still has advantage in that district.”

“It’s the one race in the state where you would say at this point that you could still see a detectable Republican leaning at this point,” he said. “And we’ll see what happens because the environment is changing rapidly and I think will continue to change rapidly between now and November.”

Rasmussen was referring to the lean of the swing districts. He said neither Republican incumbent in New Jersey – Chris Smith or Jeff Van Drew – “are sweating it at this point.”

The election is nine weeks away, on Nov. 8.

Given the levels of enthusiasm on both sides, Rasmussen said he wouldn’t be surprised to see turnout similar to 2018’s midterm level of 56%.

“I think that that’s possible," he said. "And I don’t think that we’ll be sitting here embarrassed by how few voters voted after Election Day.”

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Turnout won’t be close to two years ago, when it was 72% for the presidential election. The last three times that House races topped the ballot, turnout was 42% to 43% of registered voters.

Who is on the ballot in NJ

  • House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio administers a ceremonial re-enactment of the House oath-of-office to Rep. Donald Norcross, D-N.J., accompanied by his wife Andrea Doran and daughter, Tuesday, Jan. 6, 2015, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)
    House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio administers a ceremonial re-enactment of the House oath-of-office to Rep. Donald Norcross, D-N.J., accompanied by his wife Andrea Doran and daughter, Tuesday, Jan. 6, 2015, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)
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    1

    1ST DISTRICT

    Rep. Donald Norcross of Camden, Democratic Party

    Claire Gustafson of Collingswood, Republican Party

    Isaiah Fletcher of Cherry Hill, Libertarian Party

    Allen Cannon of Titusville, Cannon Fire

    Patricia Kline of Turnersville, For the People

  • Photo Courtesy of the Committee
    Photo Courtesy of the Committee
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    2

    2ND DISTRICT

    Rep. Jeff Van Drew of Dennis Township, Republican Party

    Tim Alexander of Galloway, Democratic Party

    Michael Gallo of Lower Township, Libertarian Party

    Anthony Parisi Sanchez of Millville, Not For Sale

  • AP
    AP
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    3

    3RD DISTRICT

    Rep. Andy Kim of Moorestown, Democratic Party

    Bob Healey of Moorestown, Republican Party

    Christopher Russomanno of Bordentown, Libertarian Party

    Gregory Sobocinski of Southampton, God Save America

  • Rep. Chris Smith (House Television via AP)
    Rep. Chris Smith (House Television via AP)
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    4

    4TH DISTRICT

    Rep. Christopher Smith of Toms River, Republican Party

    Matthew Jenkins of Colts Neck, Democratic Party

    Jason Cullen of Manalapan, Libertarian Party

    Pam Daniels of Brick, Progress With Pam

    David Schmidt of Toms River, We the People

    Hank Schroeder of Sea Girt, no slogan filed

  • Congressman Josh Gottheimer (Office of Congressman Josh Gottheimer)
    Congressman Josh Gottheimer (Office of Congressman Josh Gottheimer)
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    5

    5TH DISTRICT

    Rep. Josh Gottheimer of Wyckoff, Democratic Party

    Frank Pallotta of Mahwah, Republican Party

    Jeremy Marcus of Monroe, Libertarian Party

    Trevor Ferrigno of Fair Lawn, Together We Stand

    Louis Vellucci of Mahwah, American Values

  • U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone (Getty Images)
    U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone (Getty Images)
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    6

    6TH DISTRICT

    Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. of Long Branch, Democratic Party

    Susan Kiley of Hazlet, Republican Party

    Tara Fisher of Lindenwold, Libertarian Party

    Eric Antisell of New Brunswick, Move Everyone Forward

    Inder Jit Soni of Edison, New Jersey First

  • Rep. Tom Malinowski, D-N.J. 7th District.
    Rep. Tom Malinowski, D-N.J. 7th District.
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    7

    7TH DISTRICT

    Rep. Tom Malinowski of East Amwell, Democratic Party

    Thomas Kean Jr. of Westfield, Republican Party

    Veronica Fernandez of Long Valley, Of, By, For!

  • Michael Symons/Townsquare Media NJ
    Michael Symons/Townsquare Media NJ
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    8

    8TH DISTRICT

    Robert Menendez of Jersey City, Democratic Party

    Marcos Arroyo of West New York, Republican Party

    Dan Delaney of Hoboken, Libertarian Party

    Joanne Kuniansky of West New York, Socialist Workers Party

    David Cook of Kearny, various slogans: The Mediator; People Over Parties; Vote Real Change

    Pablo Olivera of Newark, Labour Party

    John Salierno of Jersey City, Truth and Merit

  • AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File
    AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File
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    9

    9TH DISTRICT

    Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr. of Paterson, Democratic Party

    Billy Prempeh of Paterson, Republican Party

    Sean Armstrong of Jersey City, Libertarian Party

    Lea Sherman of West New York, Socialist Workers Party

  • Rep. Donald Payne (AP Photo/Mel Evans)
    Rep. Donald Payne (AP Photo/Mel Evans)
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    10

    10TH DISTRICT

    Rep. Donald Payne Jr. of Newark, Democratic Party

    David Pinckney of Irvington, Republican Party

    Kendal Ludden of Bayonne, Libertarian Party

    Clenard Childress Jr. of East Orange, The Mahali Party

    Dorothy Jane Humphries of Jersey City, Together We Can

    Cynthia Johnson of Glen Ridge, Jobs and Justice

  • AP
    AP
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    11

    11TH DISTRICT

    Rep. Mikie Sherrill of Montclair, Democratic Party

    Paul DeGroot of Montville, Republican Party

    Joseph Biasco of Lincoln Park, Libertarian Party

  • Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman being sworn into office in January (Bonnie Watson Coleman via Facebook)
    Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman being sworn into office in January (Bonnie Watson Coleman via Facebook)
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    12

    12TH DISTRICT

    Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman of Ewing, Democratic Party

    Darius Mayfield of East Brunswick, Republican Party

    Lynn Genrich of Allentown, Libertarian Party

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