Republican Edward Durr Jr. may have ousted the longest-serving Senate Speaker in New Jersey history. But the South Jersey truck driver who campaigned on a shoestring doesn’t take much credit for the victory.
“I am absolutely nobody. I’m just a simple guy. It was the people, it was a repudiation of the policies imposed on them, ”Durr told reporters in Gloucester County on Thursday, shortly after the Associated Press announced he had defeated the senator. Democrat Steve Sweeney.
Durr is not a fan of Democratic Governor Phil Murphy’s pandemic policies.
“These are people who say they can’t have a job. They can’t go to church. They can’t go to school. You can’t do your shopping. They can’t go to dinner, ”said Durr, 58, explaining why voters rallied behind him.
“You can’t keep telling people that they can’t do things when we live in the freest country in the world. And you think you’re just going to sit on your hands and do nothing. Governor Murphy kept telling you “no, no, no”. And Senator Sweeney was setting there and all right, whatever.
“So people said, ‘No, you’re not doing your job,’ he said. “‘Sit down, we’ll find someone else [to] does the job. ‘ “
Durr’s victory came as Republican Jack Ciattarelli came close to beating Murphy in a state Joe Biden won by 16 points last year. Donald Trump has twice transported Sweeney’s Third Legislative District, which spans Salem and parts of Gloucester and Cumberland counties.
New Jersey may be the most densely populated state in the country, but the District of Sweeney is primarily home to small, working-class towns with rural expanses. Drive through Salem County and you’ll come across Cowtown Rodeo, dating back to 1955.
Sweeney received only slightly fewer votes than four years ago in his run for re-election. But Durr surpassed Sweeney’s GOP opponent in 2017 by more than 10,000 votes, an increase of almost 50%. He beat the Senate Speaker by about 2,200 votes out of some 63,000 votes cast, according to unofficial results. Sweeney’s Coven running mate John Burzichelli and Adam Taliaferro also lost.
READ MORE: Powerful South Jersey Senator Steve Sweeney loses to little-known Republican: ‘Great to see’
Sweeney’s slate had spent more than $ 1 million by the end of October, according to records. Durr, of Logan Township, said he spent less than $ 10,000.
His victory surprised leaders of both parties, according to interviews with half a dozen political insiders. After all, his opponents have repeatedly tried to defeat him.
In 2017, the state’s largest teachers’ union – upset over Sweeney’s stance on member benefits – spent $ 5 million trying to overthrow it. In this case, the President of the Senate made his own candidacy for re-election a top priority. This year, Sweeney and his political ally George E. Norcross III, the insurance executive and Democratic power broker, had not anticipated the threat, according to three people close to them.
In a statement Thursday, Sweeney did not give in.
“Tuesday’s election results keep coming, for example there were 12,000 recently found ballots in a county,” he said. “While I’m currently lagging behind in the race, we want to make sure every vote is counted. Our constituents deserve it and we will wait for the final results. “
Durr is a non-union truck driver for the Raymour & Flanigan furniture chain. He lives in a bright blue one-story house on a quiet road next to a freeway in Swedesboro. He and his wife have three children. In front of the house, a yellow Gadsden “Do not tread on me” flag fluttered on a pole, next to an American flag. A broken down Mustang is in the driveway. Durr’s beloved Harley Davidson stood next to it on Thursday. “Edward Durr 4 Senate” and “Jack for the Governor” campaign signs lined the street.
After speaking to reporters on the side of the road near his home, Durr said he had to return home to take his three pit bulls – Bella, Apollo and Lexi – for a walk.
Placards posted on his campaign website protest “20 years of Democratic rule” and “taxes, duties, taxes !!!” His Facebook posts praise Donald Trump and criticize Joe Biden. There are many messages in support of gun rights.
Durr ran unsuccessfully for the State Assembly in the same district two years ago. He will serve a two-year term, after which he can run for a four-year term – a feature of the New Jersey electoral system. State Senators earn $ 49,000 per year.
“Across the county it was a red wave,” said Jacci Vigilante, chairman of the Gloucester County GOP. “Voters didn’t want to elect career politicians. They acknowledged that these politicians had done nothing during their tenure to improve the lives of residents of Gloucester County.
Durr’s campaign, she said, “was really a grassroots organization,” based on knocking on doors and talking to residents in person.
“It was really old fashioned, take away the vote for Ed because he didn’t raise a lot of money,” she said.
Linda DuBois, President of the Salem County GOP, described Durr as “one of your very down to earth people who has never owned his own business or anything like that, and just does what he wants. ‘he has to do to make sure he has food on his family’s table.
Sweeney, 62, was elected to the Senate in 2002 and has served as Speaker of the House since 2010. In this role, he has helped guide policy development on everything from economic development in South Jersey to annual budgets. the appointment of numerous judges.
He helped establish Rowan University in Glassboro as a research institution and was instrumental in opening the Paulsboro Marine Terminal in 2017, the first new terminal on the Delaware River in 50 years. The port is expected to help power New Jersey’s offshore wind industry and support thousands of manufacturing jobs. And a 200 acre, $ 200 million publicly funded wind port is planned at Lower Alloways Creek in Salem County.
“The money that got to South Jersey as a result of what they did – I thought that was the strongest message they had,” said Robert N. DiLella, Democratic consultant and former Gloucester County Board of Commissioners Clerk. “Love them or hate them, South Jersey has finally had its fair share. “
He described the neighborhood as “a lot of working class people who feel the Democratic Party is not speaking for them.”
“They made a statement,” he said.
Burzichelli, the member of the assembly who ran with Sweeney, said “it seemed like Trump’s extremists had new life when the withdrawal from Afghanistan went as it did.”
“The Washington soap opera had a huge effect on this election,” said Burzichelli. He added that voters were tired of the pandemic restrictions and that Murphy’s candidacy had not inspired participation.
DuBois, the president of the Salem GOP, said she didn’t think the election was a rejection of Sweeney personally. “I think it’s just the tide,” she said. Murphy’s handling of the pandemic – and the mask’s mandate in schools in particular – was deeply unpopular, she said.
Biden’s campaign with Murphy has not helped Sweeney’s cause, she said, “It made Salem County miserable. The only way to fix it was to vote Republican.
“Those of us who know him appreciate what he has done for us,” DuBois said of Sweeney. “It was never a question. But I think the whole mentality was that voters wanted to put Republicans in, period. It could have been anyone.
Editors John Duchneskie, Jonathan Lai and Allison Steele contributed to this article.