Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory Head of Science Education Andrew Zwicker became the first Democrat elected to represent central New Jersey’s 16th Legislative District on Monday.
Zwicker narrowly won his New Jersey Assembly seat by beating incumbent Republican Donna Simon by 78 votes, or 16,308 to 16,230 votes. Simon has served since 2012 in the position, which was created in 1974.
Each district has two representatives, and Jack Ciattarelli, the Republican incumbent in District 16, will join Zwicker in the New Jersey Assembly.
Zwicker was formally announced as the winner on Monday afternoon, when provisional votes were counted in Middlesex County. Provisional ballots are cast by voters who have some problem establishing their eligibility, such as a missing name or lack of proper identification.
Zwicker is a fellow of the American Physical Society and editor of the APS Forum on Physics and Society's newsletter. He is also a lecturer in the University’s Writing Program and works as a faculty advisor for freshmen and sophomores in Rockefeller College.
“I am happy, and I’m very proud of the tremendous campaign we ran,” Zwicker said. “I am humbled by the trust that people have given me. I’m excited to get to Trenton and try to help make New Jersey a better place to live and raise a family.”
Initially, Zwicker said that he did not think he would win — he even gave a concession speech on election night. However, he retracted the speech, after it became apparent that there was a possibility of making up the difference.
Simon can ask for a recount until Nov. 18. If she does not, Zwicker will be sworn into office in Jan. 12, 2016.
Zwicker’s past efforts to run for office have proven unsuccessful.He failed to win the Democratic nomination in 2013 to replace former U.S. Representative Rush Holt, who served New Jersey’s 12th congressional district including Princeton.Only 23 percent of District 16’s 143,404 registered voters went to vote on Tuesday. The district has covered Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex and Somerset counties since being redrawn in 2011. Prior to that year, Princeton was in District 15.
“So much of what we read in the newspaper is about how money has corrupted politics and how people no longer have a voice,” Zwicker said. He added, however, that the statement is not true.
“This was genuinely a grassroots campaign where I had no independent money put into my race,” Zwicker said.He explained that he built up a network of volunteers and knocked on tens of thousands of doors.
This win is an indication that democracy still works and that every vote genuinely and truly matters, he said.
The Princeton College Democrats worked hard, spending weekends knocking on doors and helping with his campaign, Zwicker said.
“I came to them early saying, ‘You have an opportunity to change an election,’ ” Zwicker said. “No one predicted that this could happen.”
Zwicker noted that independent voters and moderate Republicans voted for him.
Across New Jersey, Democrats won four Assembly seats. Democrats now hold their largest majority in the lower house of the New Jersey Legislature since 1979, at 52 of 80 seats. Democrats also dominate the upper house of the Legislature.“This was the shocker of the night,” Patrick Murray, Director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute, said of Zwicker’s win.
Although Murray said he knew that there was a potential for a Democrat to win at some point, he did not expect a Democrat to win this district so soon.
Republicans neglected to vote at a much greater rate than Democrats did, which helped Zwicker, Murray said.
He added that New Jersey Republicans feel like legislators have been excessively appeasing New Jersey governor Chris Christie. Republican voters are unhappy with how Christie has controlled the party and how legislators are not standing up for themselves. As a result, there was a low Republican turnout in this election, Murray explained.Zwicker had strong support from Princeton, according to Murray.
“Zwicker would not have won if he weren’t a hard-working candidate,” Murray said. “He really did go out there, knock on doors and talk to voters … This was a real testament to his fortitude.”
Zwicker said he looks forward to trying to make a difference on behalf of every constituent in the 16th district.
“My obligation is to represent everybody,” he said.
Correction: Due to a reporting error, an earlier version of this article inaccurately stated that Zwicker had obtained the Democratic nomination in 2013 to replace former U.S. Representative Rush Holt. The 'Prince' regrets the error.