Candidates Push for Higher Turnout in District 16

By C.M. Gabbett

There are very few competitive districts in this year’s elections to the general assembly, but the presence of a handful of reliably Democratic towns make the 16th legislative district one of them.

This Republican-leaning district is somewhat unique in that it stretches across towns in four counties, including Delaware, Flemington, Raritan, Readington, and Stockton in Hunterdon County, as well as Branchburg, Hillsborough, Manville, Millstone, Montgomery, Rocky Hill and Somerville in Somerset County.

The district also contains one town in both Mercer and Middlesex counties, with Princeton and South Brunswick, respectively. Both towns are reliably Democratic and contribute heavily to the competitive nature of the district.

Both incumbents, Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli of Hillsborough and Assemblywoman Donna Simon of Readington Township, are running for re-election. While they were both re-elected by a sizable margin in 2013, they face different challenges in their attempt to retain their seats, especially without the presence of popular State Sen. Kip Bateman on the ticket.

A major concern for candidates across the state, but especially in competitive districts such as this one, is turnout. Turnout is expected to be very low in the general election. The June primary had the lowest turnout in 90 years, according to an Associated Press analysis, and the general is not expected to be much higher without a statewide race to draw interest.

In an attempt to maximize turnout, the candidates and their volunteers have held numerous phone banks as part of their various campaign events. Organizations such as the Young Republicans have encouraged their members to come out and help make calls for the candidates.

Raleigh Steinhauer, the chairman of the Somerset County Young Republicans, is running for town council in his hometown of Franklin, based in the neighboring 17th legislative district. He has been very supportive of Ciattarelli and Simon.

“Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli and Assemblywoman Donna Simon are two of the most competent, passionate, and dedicated legislators in the state. They have proven to be tireless workers who effectively fight and advocate for the interests of their constituents on a daily basis,” he said.

Other volunteers for the Republican team expressed confidence and excitement.

“I just think these are the important elections. These are the off-season elections,” said volunteer Joe Lukac of Manville. “This is the base of the whole system itself.”

Not content to leave the grunt work up to volunteers, Ciattarelli joined them at the phone bank on Sept. 21 in Somerville and participated in the process of making calls into the stronghold of Branchburg and the swing town of Montgomery.

“I think what’s really interesting is that the assembly is at the top of the ticket,” said Ciattarelli. “It’s very unique, once every 20 years or so that the general assembly is at the top of the ticket and that presents a certain challenge with turnout. That makes it all the more important that people turn out and cast their ballots.”

The general election is Nov. 3. Ciattarelli and Simon are being challenged by Democrats Andrew Zwicker, a congressional candidate in 2014, and Maureen Vella, who unsuccessfully challenged Kip Bateman in the 2011 elections.