TRENTON, Nov. 6 — In a stunning defeat for Gov. Jon S. Corzine, New Jersey voters on Tuesday rejected a ballot measure that would have permitted the state to borrow $450 million for stem cell research.
The sound defeat, coupled with the failure of another initiative that would have set aside more money for property tax rebates, marked the first time in 17 years that voters in New Jersey had defeated any statewide ballot question.
The ballot questions offered a rare surprise on a day in which Democrats maintained their control over both houses in the State Legislature. As of midnight, Democrats appeared poised to add one seat to their 22-18 majority in the Senate by winning seats in Atlantic City and Cape May Counties that had been in the hands of Republicans. In the Assembly, Republicans appeared to chip one or two seats from the Democrats’ current 50-30 majority.
But it was the defeat of the stem cell measure by a resounding 53-47 percent margin that dealt a sharp blow to Mr. Corzine, who had campaigned heavily for it and had contributed $150,000 to the effort.
Supporters had argued that the borrowing would help pay for research that could help deliver New Jersey from financial distress by bringing additional tax revenue and tens of thousands of jobs to the state. Critics, by contrast, said that New Jersey could not afford to add to the state’s surging debt load of $30 billion.
Though recent polls had indicated that the initiative would pass easily, a coalition of conservatives, anti-abortion activists and the Catholic church conducted a last-minute advertising blitz against it.
“I don’t think the majority of New Jerseyans are against stem cell research,” said Richard J. Codey, the State Senate president. “I think they were sending us a message. The message is, ’Get your fiscal house in order first.’ ” He said he would meet with Governor Corzine tomorrow and they would talk about the issue and whether they should bring this back before the Legislature.
But at midnight, Mr. Corzine’s press secretary said the governor was not ready to concede. “Regardless of the outcome, New Jersey will continue to create a climate where stem cell research can thrive,” said the spokeswoman, Lilo Stainton.
Mayor Steve Lonegan of Bogota, a former Republican candidate for governor who is now the New Jersey leader of a conservative group called Americans for Prosperity, had a different view. “These were faits accomplis four weeks ago,” he said. “No one thought we had a chance. But we had a powerful message. This is the power of ideas versus big government. This is just a group of taxpayers saying enough is enough, we’re taking back our state. We went hand to hand arguing our point. And you know what? New Jersey is not the hopelessly liberal state that people think it is.”
Republicans appeared to score important victories in a few races, including the state’s marquee matchup, the Senate race in the 12th Legislative District, which includes parts of Monmouth and Mercer Counties. Assemblywoman Jennifer Beck of Red Bank was leading the Democratic incumbent, Ellen Karcher, in this historically Republican district, 54 percent to 46 percent, with about 75 percent of the precincts reporting.
With no federal or statewide races being decided in this election, political analysts said that they had expected voter turnout to be about 35 percent, the same as in 2003, the last time that all 120 seats in the Legislature were being contested.
Most races focused on local issues and personal relationships rather than any overarching statewide issues. The election was not viewed as a referendum on Mr. Corzine, a Democrat who enjoys close to 50 percent approval ratings despite unease about his plan to refinance state assets like the New Jersey Turnpike.
Still, Democrats, wary of recent polls indicating that residents are becoming more pessimistic about the state’s fiscal future, outspent Republicans three to one, with much of the money going toward last-minute advertising.
That effort appeared to pay off in the traditionally Republican strongholds of Atlantic City and Cape May, as two popular Democratic assemblymen, Jim Whelan and Jeff Van Drew, were leading their respective opponents, Senators James J. McCullough and Nicholas Asselta.
“I feel pretty good,” Mr. Codey said at his headquarters in West Orange. “I would have liked to have the cake, the icing and the cherry on the top. This is minus the cherry.”
The cherry was a reference to the Beck-Karcher race. That contest was so highly anticipated that many Democratic and Republican leaders, including Assemblyman Joseph Cryan, the state Democratic chairman, and the Assembly minority leader, Alex DeCroce, a Republican, converged on Monmouth County to show their support.
“They had the money; we had the message, and frankly, our message resonates with the voters,” Mr. DeCroce told New Jersey Network.
Assemblyman Cryan conceded that Senator Karcher had been hurt by a controversy over how she had received tax breaks on her property for growing Christmas trees. “The property tax issue was difficult. It was difficult to overcome,” he said.
Going into the election, Democrats held a 22-to-18 advantage in the Senate, and 50-to-30 in the Assembly.
Only a handful of contests were viewed as competitive. In fact, three races in the Senate and one in the Assembly were uncontested.
In South Jersey, Mr. Van Drew, who bills himself as a conservative Democrat, was leading Mr. Asselta. His running mates, Assemblyman Nelson T. Albano and Matt Milam, were also leading their Republican counterparts.
A little farther north along the Garden State Parkway, Mr. Whelan, a former mayor of Atlantic City, defeated Mr. McCullough, the mayor of Egg Harbor Township. Shortly after 9:30 p.m., Mr. McCullough appeared before his supporters, and conceded the race to Mr. Whelan. But he couldn’t help getting in a dig at George E. Norcross III, the Camden County Democratic leader who poured a lot of money into the race.
“Congratulations to George Norcross,” Mr. McCullough quipped.
But in a sign of how Republicans are still strong in Atlantic County, Mr. McCullough’s two running mates for the Assembly, Vince Polistina and John Amodeo, appeared headed for victory. So, too, was the executive in Atlantic City, Dennis Levinson, the Republican incumbent.
In the southwestern quadrant of the state, Assemblyman Fran Bodine, a longtime Republican who switched to the Democratic Party this year in order to run for the Senate, was trailing Phil Haines, the Burlington County clerk.
Jill P. Capuzzo, Jeremy W. Peters and Nate Schweber contributed reporting.
“I don’t think the majority of New Jerseyans are against stem cell research,” said Richard J. Codey, the State Senate president. “I think they were sending us a message. The message is, [B]’Get your fiscal house in order first.’ ”[/B] He said he would meet with Governor Corzine tomorrow and they would talk about the issue and whether they should bring this back before the Legislature.[/QUOTE]
I think most voters who voted against the measure are not necessarily against stem cell research. The issue is should the federal goverment be in charge of this? Most things run by the federal governemtn are a disaster. Why not let the private billion dollar insurance/pharm industry invest in it?
[QUOTE=Buster;2200024]It is a safe bet that NJ would get the money back (with new GOOD jobs) considering how many pharmaceutical companies are based here.[/QUOTE]
Is this a safe bet like when the state builds a sports stadium? Think of it this way, it’d be nice to upgrade the door to your house but if you are still carrying a heavy credit card balance, you can’t justify it. At least the citizens are coming around and realizing that spending, spending, spending cannot go on forever.
[QUOTE=BrooklynBound;2200148]Is this a safe bet like when the state builds a sports stadium? Think of it this way, it’d be nice to upgrade the door to your house but if you are still carrying a heavy credit card balance, you can’t justify it. At least the citizens are coming around and realizing that spending, spending, spending cannot go on forever.[/QUOTE]
I agree BUT this bond issue would create a lot of jobs in the ‘biotech industry’ not in the ‘serving beer to sports fan’ industry. There is a big difference. Also, it may lead to some great medical advances.
[QUOTE=Buster;2200171]I agree BUT this bond issue would create a lot of jobs in the ‘biotech industry’ not in the ‘serving beer to sports fan’ industry. There is a big difference. Also, it may lead to some great medical advances.[/QUOTE]
Why should taxpayers subsidize any industry like this? If this is a no-brainer or a sure bet, private firms will invest in it. Private equity firms and venture capitalists spend all day looking for great investment opportunities. I’d trust their perspective on viable businesses over the government. The best way for NJ to improve it’s economy is to balance the budget so they don’t have to punish businesses and individuals with excessively high taxes. These people and businesses eventually leave and losing that income tax and corporation tax is what really causes the budget problems.
I wish they would have put on the ballot whether NJ should borrow money to finance the infrastructure improvements to the new Meadowlands Stadium the write off of the bonds on Giant Stadium, and buying land for the Jets to have their practice facilities.
The same Codey who said you must get your fiscal house in order did all of the above for Jersey taxpayers.