Democratic New Jersey Senate President Stephen Sweeney bowed to the inevitable Wednesday night, finally conceding that he had lost his bid for reelection to Republican furniture truck driver Edward Durr — a political novice who spent a relative pittance on his campaign.
“I of course accept the results,” Sweeney said during a news conference at the State House in Trenton. “I want to congratulate Mr. Durr and wish him the best of luck.”
Sweeney, the most powerful Democratic politician in New Jersey over the last decade and the longest-serving state Senate president, blamed his loss on a “red wave” that also saw Gov. Phil Murphy barely hold off Republican challenger Jack Ciattarelli to become the first Democrat re-elected governor of the Garden State since Brendan Byrne in 1977.
Though most media outlets had called the race for Durr last week, Sweeney held off on conceding, insisting that he would wait until all the votes were counted.
In the end, Sweeney lost about 2,000 votes after spending approximately $305,000 on his campaign. Durr, by contrast, spent around $2,300, according to a state Election Law Enforcement Commission document filed online last week.
On Wednesday, Sweeney declined to say whether he would try to win back his soon-to-be former state Senate seat in 2023 or run for New Jersey governor in 2025 — but he did say that he plans to stay “fully involved in public affairs.”
“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.”
After Sweeney conceded, Durr told reporters at GOP headquarters in Gloucester County that “I feel like I’m about to throw up.”
“This is all new to me,” he said. “It’s all overwhelming, but I am very happy that the voters selected me. I’m going to earn that vote and I’m going to prove them right.”
Durr described Murphy as the “secret” to his victory in New Jersey’s 3rd district, which covers the Philadelphia suburbs in Gloucester, Cumberland, and Salem counties.
“The voters have spoken,” Durr said. “They don’t want government rule by a dangerous guy armed with a bunch of executive orders.”
Durr also distanced himself from social media posts in which he called Islam “a false religion” and compared COVID-19 vaccine mandates to the Holocaust, saying he plans to meet with an Islamic group in the state.
“You get behind the keyboard, you don’t see a person and you don’t consider the other person,” Durr said. “I just wrote something that I don’t mean to offend anybody.”
As Senate president, Sweeney shepherded most of Murphy’s agenda through the Legislature, including a phased-in $15 minimum wage, paid sick leave and recreational marijuana legalization. However, the two also clashed over raising income taxes on the wealthy, and Sweeney had worked closely with Republican former Gov. Chris Christie during his eight-year term in office ending in 2018.
Sweeney, who was first elected to the state Senate in 2001 and became chamber president in 2010, is also known for reversing his earlier opposition to same-sex marriage — saying in 2011 that he had made the “biggest mistake of my legislative career” when he voted against a bill legalizing the practice.