Biden dominates Trump in NJ — but not in these red counties
There's a truism in New Jersey politics: It's a blue state.
It's no surprise New Jersey gave its 14 electoral votes to Democrat Joe Biden Tuesday night. The Associated Press didn't wait on the paper provisional ballots cast on Election Day to call the race; those won't be tallied for another week. It didn't even wait for counties to start reporting the mail-in ballots they received over the past few weeks — which by Tuesday, had nearly outnumbered all New Jersey votes in 2016.
The polls closed, and the AP made it as official as it gets for now, instantly (no race is actually official until votes are certified, which won't happen for weeks).
But as of the end of Election Night, President Donald Trump was leading in just five New Jersey counties: Ocean, Cape May, Salem, Sussex and Warren. Back in 2016, he had also captured Monmouth, Hunterdon, Morris and Gloucester. Those looked off the table for the president this time around.
Trump’s margins in the counties he won are smaller this year, as Biden made some inroads into traditionally GOP territory.
In Ocean, the most Republican county, even with outstanding ballots, Biden already by late Tuesday night had 12,000 more votes than former Secretary of State and First Lady Hillary Clinton did when she ran for president against Trump in 2016. That likely had some down-ballot ripple effects.
It's yet to be seen how that shakes out for New Jersey's 2nd Congressional District, where some of the most unusual party dynamics are in play. Incumbent Jeff Van Drew, who as a Democrat turned the district blue two years ago, flipped parties and opposed President Donald Trump's impeachment last year. He's declared victory over Democrat Amy Kennedy, but as of late Tuesday night, she's waiting on the outstanding ballots and not conceding.
The district includes parts of Atlantic, Burlington, Camden, Cape May, Cumberland, Gloucester, Ocean and Salem counties. Of those, only Cape May and Ocean went for the president, according to results available so far.
Essex County, a traditional Democratic stronghold, gave Biden his most decisive local victory on the state — about 206,000 to 56,000 as of late Tuesday night, a nearly 57-point difference in the percentages. Hudson County wasn't far behind.
The total number of registered voters, including those who are considered inactive but haven’t yet been erased from the voter rolls, was approaching 6.5 million, according to the latest figures available Tuesday. Turnout among that group approached 59% before the polls even opened.
There were 677,000 more people registered to vote in New Jersey now than in 2016, a jump of 12%.
But even in mostly-blue New Jersey, "it was all about Donald Trump," John Weingart, associate director of the Eagleton Institute at Rutgers, told New Jersey 101.5's Eric Scott Tuesday night.
"All the conversation, all the people making up their mind" were about Trump, he said.
Among Trump's supporters, Weingart said, are all-out fans as well as people who find him distasteful but still a strong president. And then there are those who find him despicable and just want an alternative.
"Reelection always a forum on the incumbent," Weingart said.
He's doubtful the extraordinary engagement seen in this election will carry over into next year's gubernatorial race — but it depends on who's running. We're "never going to see an election as impassioned as this one has been," he said.
Daniel Bowen, political science professor at The College of New Jersey, said the polarizing nature of the race paired with the ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic meant voters were waiting for a chance to have their voices heard.
— With reporting by Sergio Bichao, Michael Symons, Dan Alexander, Eric Scott and Louis C. Hochman