- Associated Press - Wednesday, November 4, 2015

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) - Even as New Jersey Democrats wait to see if they’ve gained three or four Assembly seats in the general election, party leaders are planning an attempt at rebuking Gov. Chris Christie when legislators return for the lame-duck session.

The new Democratic majority won in Tuesday’s election - whether it’s 51 or 52 out of 80 seats as officials continue to count votes in one close district - will be the party’s biggest Assembly majority in almost four decades.

It’s a sign of strength for Democrats, Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto says, and one he hopes will translate into an override of Christie’s veto on a measure that would require people to notify law enforcement when they seek to clear their mental health records in order to buy a gun. Already, the state Senate voted to override the governor, who is seeking the GOP nomination for president.

“I think it will send a clear message,” Prieto said. “If people don’t vote for this, it will be embarrassing.”

The bill passed unanimously earlier this year. Christie vetoed it, calling for a more comprehensive approach. Prieto said the override is scheduled for Dec. 3.

The new session, which begins in 2016, will see the Democrats still in control of the Legislature and with a Republican governor. Christie’s term ends in 2017.

Assembly Majority Leader Louis Greenwald said two top priorities are making a public pension payment in accordance with a 2011 deal and funding the state’s account for road and bridge work. Prieto has said he would consider raising the gas tax to pay for the transportation trust fund, but has not embraced a specific measure.

Senate President Steve Sweeney, a Democrat, drew a direct connection between the GOP defeat Tuesday and Christie’s national campaign.

“New Jersey voters sent Republican legislators a clear message that it is time to focus on New Jersey’s needs and not on protecting the governor’s right flank for his presidential ambitions,” Sweeney said.

Democrats knocked two Republicans out of office in central New Jersey’s 11th District - putting Democrats in control for the first time there in more than a decade - and took a seat away from the GOP in southern New Jersey’s 1st District.

Republican Assemblyman Declan O’Scanlon blamed the party’s loss on special interest money and said the spending overwhelmed the incumbents’ message of pension reform.

“If you have a lot of money and you have virtually no morals, apparently you can overwhelm the truth,” O’Scanlon said.

General Majority PAC, largely funded by allies of the state’s biggest teachers union, spent almost $4 million to aid Democrats.

All Assembly seats were up for grabs Tuesday, the first time in 16 years the chamber was alone atop the ticket.

In the biggest surprise of the night, Democrats Joann Downey and Eric Houghtaling defeated Republican incumbent Assemblywomen Mary Pat Angelini and Caroline Casagrande in the Monmouth County-based 11th District.

In the 1st District, Democratic incumbent Bob Andrzejczak and running mate Bruce Land defeated Republican incumbent Sam Fiocchi and running mate Jim Sauro.

In central New Jersey’s 16th District, Republican incumbent Jack Ciattarelli won one of two seats, but the second seat was too close to call between Republican incumbent Donna Simon and Democrat Andrew Zwicker. Zwicker held a slim lead Wednesday, according to unofficial results.

Despite the low-wattage race, millions of dollars poured into the race. TV ads mostly reached voters in southern New Jersey’s 1st and 2nd districts, where Democrats and Republicans each control one Assembly seat.

The latest state data available show nearly $8.5 million from so-called independent expenditure groups, accounting for 42 percent of spending. The Election Law Enforcement Commission says that’s the biggest share ever in a statewide race.

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