One of New Jersey's most powerful elected Democrats conceded Wednesday that he lost reelection to a Republican political newcomer, a commercial truck driver who spent only a couple thousand dollars on his campaign.
State Sen. President Steve Sweeney's loss to Edward Durr in southern New Jersey shocked state officials and left state Democrats, who control the Legislature, searching for a new leader.
“I of course accept the results. I want to congratulate Mr. Durr and wish him the best of luck," Sweeney said during a speech at the statehouse complex Wednesday.
Sweeney said his loss to Durr, who spent at least $2,300 in the contest, was the result of overwhelming GOP turnout in his suburban Philadelphia, politically split district. He lost by about 2,000 votes.
“It was a red wave,” he said.
Sweeney, who spent about $305,000 on his campaign, added that he won't be withdrawing from public life, though he stopped short of saying whether he would seek election to the Senate again or run for governor in 2025. He said that he is going to continue to focus on “the things that are important to the people of this state.”
“What the voters said in this election is New Jersey is a state filled with hardworking people who want to provide for their families and as leaders we need to speak directly to the concerns of all voters,” he said. “I plan to keep speaking to those concerns.”
Durr planned to speak later Wednesday.
His loss unfolded in a politically competitive suburban district that includes parts of Gloucester, Cumberland and Salem counties, which split their votes between Democrats and Republicans in the presidential elections in 2016 and again in 2020.
It also coincided with boosted GOP turnout in an off-year election that saw Republicans win across the state. Durr’s victory, which The Associated Press declared Thursday, netted about 3% more votes than Sweeney did in 2017 in unofficial returns.
Sweeney’s attention was also focused on tight Senate races elsewhere in the state.
Wednesday's speech was unusually formal for Sweeney, who stood before a lectern with the state seal, speaking in a quiet voice.
He sad he entered politics after his daughter Lauren was born prematurely and had developmental disabilities. He said he stayed with her in the hospital because he had a good benefits at his job, as a union ironworker.
“Twenty years later, I was able to make sure that all New Jersey parents had the same opportunity to be with their loved ones in their time of greatest need when the paid family leave bill I sponsored was signed into law," he said.
Sweeney has served as Senate president since 2010 and was responsible for shepherding Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy’s progressive agenda through the Legislature, including a phased-in $15 an hour minimum wage, paid sick leave and recreational marijuana legalization.
He is also known for his high-profile reversal on opposition to same-sex marriage. Sweeney said in 2011 that he made the “biggest mistake of my legislative career” when he voted against marriage equality.
Though Sweeney was a fellow Democrat, he fought Murphy at the start of his administration over raising income taxes on the wealthy and worked closely with Republican Chris Christie during his eight-year term in office ending in 2018.
A deal he worked out with Christie to overhaul public worker pensions put Sweeney at odds with public sector unions, who would go on to become key supporters of Murphy.
Thought he has clashed with Sweeney, Murphy said last week he bemoaned the loss and said he didn't welcome the news.
Sweeney said he wouldn't be seeking a recount, which is not automatic in New Jersey and would have to be financed by the party seeking the tally.
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