Dems Eye GOP Divide, Youth Vote, Minorities

By Jane Primerano
Long Valley Patch
October 26, 2011

In her book, “It’s My Party, Too,” former Governor and EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman described the Republican Party she knew when her father, Webster Todd, was Somerset County Democratic Chairman.

She remembered a party of environmental awareness and social concern. An “umbrella party,” embracing many differing views.

Similarly, Mayor Nelson Vaughan of Chatham Borough, a Democrat, refers to area Republicans as “not far right—old Rockefeller Republicans, reasonable.”

Changes are taking place in Morris County, typically a GOP stronghold. Several prominent Democrats cited the Freeholder race in the last Republican primary where Hank Lyon, 23, of Parsippany, a young, unknown Tea Party member, seemingly defeated long-time incumbent Margaret Nordstrom by six votes. The win was overturned when Assignment Judge Thomas Weisenback ruled there were campaign finance violations and voter fraud issues that made it impossible to tell who really won, but “Margaret got sandbagged,” former Democratic Party executive director Elihu Davidson said.

(Nordstrom ultimately held onto the GOP nomination, after a judge-ordered special election among members of the county Republican Committee. She faces Democrat Truscha Quattrone in November.)

Denville Democrat Robert Grant sees what happened with the freeholder race as evidence of a division in the Republican Party.

“Either the Tea Party is getting a hold, or the Republicans don’t care who they nominate,” Grant said.

This week, Patch explores state of Morris County’s Democratic party in ‘Morris Democrats: 2011.’ Check back throughout the week for more. Search the phrase “Morris GOP: 2011” at the top of this page to read last week’s series on the Republican party.

While some Morris residents may be leaning toward the Tea Party, Daniel Grant of Montville said the local, municipal organizations should be working to attract the youth and new residents.

“New people are moving in to the county,” he noted. “They see the way things are” going in the state.

Rockaway Democrat Douglas Romaine said he believes animosity toward Gov. Chris Christie is an opportunity for Democrats to recruit.

Democratic County Chairman Lew Candura said there was a very active youth committee, but it “melted away.” As the young voters got older, they didn’t bring in young people to replace them—but the county organization is gearing up for a new effort after the election, he said.

There is a core group of young people who volunteered over the summer, Candura said. He said there are always some Drew University students who help out, but recently more students from Fairleigh Dickinson University have also volunteered.

Tom Wyka, running for council in Parsippany, echoed Candura’s statement that Democrats have had success getting young people our to help in both major elections and local races.

The “only Democratic towns left,” in the words of Vaughan, are Morristown and Dover—also more ethnically diverse than the county as a whole. Morristown, the county seat, is 16.9 percent black and 27.15 percent Hispanic. Dover is only 6.83 percent black, but 57.9 percent Hispanic. Both are governed by Democratic mayors and governing bodies and have heavier Democratic registration.

Candura said the party reaches out to Hispanic voters.

“We have bi-lingual registration drives in Dover. And, our candidates are attuned to their issues,” Candura said.

The other heavily Democratic town is tiny Victory Gardens. Candura said the county party has never connected well there. “They are very small and very independent,” he said, “but it’s on our agenda to work with them.”

The county party is also working on registering more Democrats in Wharton, a former Democratic town that flipped to Republican.

In many areas organized labor is a source of Democratic power, but there is no central labor council in Morris, Candura said.

“That leaves us at a disadvantage in recruiting, we have to go through individual unions,” he said.

Candura was adamant the county party will be active in recruitment all over the county after the November election.