By DONALD WITTKOWSKI
Two years ago, the Republican challengers succeeded in their goal to “Flip the First” by defeating the Democratic incumbents in a hotly contested election in the First Legislative District.
There was no such drama – or flipping – this time around.
In a landslide victory Tuesday night, the Republican slate of Sen. Michael Testa and Assemblymen Antwan McClellan and Erik Simonsen maintained GOP control of the South Jersey district that includes Cape May and Cumberland counties and a small part of Atlantic County.
In the Cape May County Commission race, Republican incumbent Leonard Desiderio was unopposed in winning his seventh term on the board that oversees county government.
Declaring a “huge victory,” Cape May County Republican Chairman Michael Donohue said the Democrats ran into “a buzz saw” that might discourage other candidates from running in the First District in the future.
With 92 percent of the precincts reporting, the unofficial results showed Testa, Simonsen and McClellan trouncing their opponents by a 2-to-1 margin, according to vote totals compiled by the Associated Press.
Testa had 35,329 votes, while Democratic Senate candidate Yolanda E. Garcia Balicki had 17,046.
Simonsen had 34,265 votes and McClellan 33,911. Democratic Assembly candidates John P. Capizola Jr. and Julia L. Hankerson had 17,272 and 16,725 votes, respectively.
Testa, thanking a gathering of Republican supporters at the Bellevue Tavern in Cape May Court House, noted that the GOP team celebrated their first victory at the same place in the 2019 election.
“This is where Antwan, Erik and I flipped the First,” he said. “You’re the backbone of what helped us to flip the First in 2019.”
With the vote totals trickling in slower than expected, Republicans had to wait until 10:15 p.m. to declare victory.
“These legislative numbers for Mike Testa, Antwan and Erik are unprecedented. They’re huge,” Donohue said of the results in heavily Republican Cape May County.
McClellan and Simonsen each took turns at the microphone to thank their supporters during a victory celebration at the Bellevue Tavern. McClellan called the Cape May County GOP base their “family.”
“This is a great night. As always, this is a great party,” McClellan said.
Simonsen said the Republicans “didn’t need to sling mud” while running on their legislative record for the past two years.
“We ran a clean campaign, which we’re really proud of,” he said.
Meanwhile, Desiderio had nothing to worry about while running unopposed for another three-year term on the Cape May County Board of Commissioners.
Desiderio was first elected to the board in 2002, when it was still known as the Board of Chosen Freeholders. He serves as the board’s vice director.
He has also served as Sea Isle City’s mayor since 1993 and is one of the few lawmakers in New Jersey to hold two elected offices at the same time. In an interview, he said he has won 24 consecutive elections as a mayor and a county commissioner or freeholder.
“I’m humbled by this again,” he said of his latest victory.
Desiderio attributed his unopposed win as county commissioner to his ability to work in a bipartisan fashion.
“I think that the citizens of Cape May County realize that I work for all of the citizens, whether they are a Republican or a Democrat. It’s not a Republican or Democratic thing,” he said. “I think I go across party lines to work for everybody.”