New Jersey Senate Leader Accepts His Fate

Truck driver unseats legislative fixture Stephen Sweeney without party's help
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 4, 2021 5:27 PM CDT
Updated Nov 10, 2021 4:30 PM CST
Senate Leader Survived Every Challenge but This One
New Jersey state Senate President Steve Sweeney, shown last year, has lost his bid for reelection.   (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)

Update: "All votes have been fairly counted, and I, of course, accept the results." So conceded longtime New Jersey State Senate President Stephen Sweeney on Wednesday in officially accepting his defeat by a truck driver with no political experience. He described his loss by around 2,000 votes as a "red wave," per the AP. Republican Edward Durr will assume the seat Sweeney has held for 20 years, and Senate Democrats will meet within days to select a new Senate president. Sweeney says he's out, but not done: "I'm not going away," he said on the subject of running again. NJ.com notes that within hours of the AP calling the race for Durr last week, his Twitter history was picked over, with one 2019 tweet referring to Muhammad as a "pedophile" getting attention; he has since deleted his account and apologized. Our original story from Nov. 4 follows:

The Republican Party did nothing to help Edward Durr's race for the state Senate. But he still gave them something to celebrate Thursday, when the AP called New Jersey's 3rd Legislative District race for Durr. The political novice didn't beat just anybody, Politico reports: He upended New Jersey politics by unseating Steve Sweeney, a Democrat who's been president of the Senate for 12 years. Financial disclosure reports show that Durr, a 58-year-old truck driver for a furniture store, spent about $2,200 on his campaign. "Hahaha no way," tweeted Republican Rep. Dan Crenshaw of Texas.

"I kept telling myself and telling people I was going to do it, but in the back of my mind I was like, 'You know, how am I going to beat the Senate president?'" Durr said Wednesday. His campaign efforts consisted of an 80-second video, lawn signs, and knocking on doors, per the New York Times. The video showed him at his truck, which he was driving when the race was called. Durr, who says he's a "constitutional conservative," did not run a campaign of fresh ideas; he mostly complained about Sweeney, career politicians, and especially the state's handling of the pandemic. "You have the debacle of unemployment. The masking of the kids in school," Durr said. "You have Senator Sweeney trying to take away peoples’ medical freedom rights."

Larger efforts to beat Sweeney have previously failed. The state teachers union poured more than $5 million into defeating him in 2017; Sweeney still won by 18 percentage points. With the Senate leader's loss on top of Gov. Phil Murphy barely winning reelection, New Jersey Democrats have issues. But progressives who saw Sweeney as an obstacle to their policies, and Murphy's, aren't unhappy that he's out—precisely because he's had such clout. "He has tried to torpedo almost every important piece of legislation going back over 10 years," said the executive director of the New Jersey Working Families Alliance. "I just tapped into the right focus," Durr said. (Read more New Jersey stories.)

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