By DONALD WITTKOWSKI and MADDY VITALE
Republicans pulled off their goal to “Flip the First” in a sweeping landslide election win Tuesday night in the First Legislative District’s Senate and Assembly races and also scored big by holding onto their seats on the Cape May County Board of Chosen Freeholders.
At the top of the ticket, Republican Michael Testa, a Vineland attorney, defeated Democratic state Sen. Bob Andrzejczak. Republicans Antwan McClellan, an Ocean City councilman, and Erik Simonsen, the mayor of Lower Township, completed the GOP trifecta in the legislative races by beating Democratic Assemblymen R. Bruce Land and Matthew Milam.
In the Cape May County freeholder race, incumbents Gerald M. Thornton and E. Marie Hayes won re-election against Democratic challengers Joyce Gould, a Wildwood Crest commissioner, and Elizabeth Casey, an Ocean City attorney.
Testa, McClellan and Simonsen capitalized on their advantage in the Republican stronghold of Cape May County by building up an insurmountable lead. Andrzejczak, Land and Milam were unable to grab enough votes in Cumberland and Atlantic counties to turn the tide.
In unofficial results supplied by the Republican campaign, Testa garnered 16,552 votes to Andrzejczak’s 13,460.
Simonsen had 35,737 votes and McClellan 34,113, while Land and Milam received 27,820 and 27,050, respectively.
Hayes, who is in her seventh year as a freeholder, received 15,465 votes and Thornton, who is the freeholder director, garnered 15,912 votes. Gould had 12,413 votes, while Casey received 11,667.
When it became clear as vote totals were coming in that there would be a resounding victory for the GOP, Republican Chairman Marcus Karavan addressed a jubilant crowd of about 150 supporters who filled the top floor of The Bellevue Tavern in Cape May Court House.
“Despite the fact that they ran a negative, costly, nasty campaign, they lost miserably,” Karavan said of the Democrats to cheering and applause.
Simonsen and McClellan joined Karavan at the front of the room. They told the crowd that it was clear when you run a campaign on the issues and do it well, and clean, the result will be victory.
Simonsen also said he was proud to have run with McClellan. In his remarks, McClellan echoed his running mate’s sentiment. He also gave thanks to his supporters.
“Thank you, thank you, Ocean City,” McClellan shouted into the microphone. “My heart was here. My heart will still be here. We are going to Trenton.”
In an interview minutes earlier, McClellan said, “It goes to show what a good, clean campaign will do. People will respect you.”
Testa did not stay for the victory speeches because he had to go to the Vineland Republican headquarters.
But before he left, he commented on the campaign.
“I’m very proud of the job myself and the Cape, Atlantic and Cumberland GOPs have done,” Testa said. “We ran a good, clean campaign and I’m excited.”
Crowds hugged the victorious candidates.
Hayes wiped away tears as she and Thornton joined Karavan to give their victory speeches.
They both described the campaign as a tough, long one, but one they were proud to be a part of.
“This has been a very tough election, but I’m so proud. It’s been a pleasure working with everyone,” Thornton said. “We made history tonight.”
There were times during the weeks leading up to the election that Hayes said she thought about giving up.
Karavan would not let her, she said.
“I wanted to give up. Marc would not let me. He told me he believed in me. I want to thank Erik, Antwan and Mike and my Ocean City crowd.” Hayes said to cheers. “Thank you so much. You don’t know how much this means to me.”
Andrzejczak, a former state assemblyman, was sworn into the Senate this year to fill a seat vacated by former state Sen. Jeff Van Drew’s election to Congress. Andrzejczak fell short in his bid to win a special election Tuesday to occupy the remainder of Van Drew’s term.
Sensing impending defeat as election night wore on, Andrzejczak banked his hopes on strong results from Cumberland County to overcome Testa’s lead in Cape May County.
“If Cumberland supports us, we will be victorious,” Andrzejczak told Democratic supporters at the Rio Station restaurant in Rio Grande.
During an interview, Andrzejczak said, “It’s in the hands of the voters.”
“The key is to get out in front of as many people as possible, get our message out and hope for the best,” he said.
Land and Milam, both of Vineland, did not capture enough support in their Cumberland County base to keep their Assembly seats.
Land is an incumbent, while Milam was appointed to fill Andrzejczak’s former Assembly seat in January when Andrzejczak replaced Van Drew in the Senate.
Land said he wanted voters to consider his record as an assemblyman, hoping that would persuade them to keep him in office.
“I would love for people to look at my record in my previous terms. I never voted for a tax increase and never did anything to hurt the constituents here,” he said in an interview.
Milam indicated that he was counting on Van Drew’s popularity to help pull him through. Milam, Land and Andrzejczak collectively ran as “The Van Drew Team.”
“I went to Van Drew University for six years,” Milam said.
Milam previously served in the Assembly from 2008 to 2013 while Van Drew was still representing the First Legislative District in the Senate. Milam decided to return to politics this year.
Gould and Casey, meanwhile, failed to crack the Republican stronghold on the Cape May County freeholder board. With the win by Thornton and Hayes, Republicans continue to hold all five freeholder seats.
“It’s a hard machine to beat,” Gould said. “But we gave it a very good fight.”
During the campaign, Gould and Casey criticized the Republicans for nepotism in county government. Gould predicted that the Republicans will be bogged down in nepotism-related lawsuits for years to come.
“Shame on them,” she said.
Casey, running for elected office for the first time, thanked her team and her supporters for their hard work during the campaign. She agreed with Gould that Democrats faced a major challenge in a county dominated by Republicans.
“It was definitely an uphill fight,” Casey said.