- The Washington Times - Friday, November 5, 2021

Republican Glenn Youngkin’s win in the Virginia governor race rattled Democrats and political assumptions, but the biggest election night upset of all happened in southern New Jersey, where a furniture truck driver beat the second-most powerful politician in the Garden State.

Edward Durr, a first-time officeholder who calls himself a “nobody” and drives a truck for Raymour and Flanagan, toppled Democratic Senate President Stephen Sweeney, a key power broker in Trenton who has held the post for 12 years, longer than anyone in state history.

Mr. Durr won by executing a devastating campaign with $2,313 and a smartphone. While most observers were focused on Gov. Phil Murphy‘s closer-than-expected win for reelection, Mr. Durr quietly took out the state’s second-ranking Democrat.

Mr. Sweeney “remained silent as Gov. Murphy with his lockdowns and mandates forced the closing of over one-third of our small businesses, costing New Jersey families thousands of jobs,” Mr. Durr said in a homemade campaign ad of him walking by “space available” signs.

He has done nothing as 7 out of every 10 moves are leaving the state, placing a heavier burden on those of us who remain,” he said of Mr. Sweeney.

Mr. Durr, 58, told voters they “deserve better” as he rode off on his motorcycle at the end of the low-budget spot.

Now, he‘s now riding into Trenton as one of the unlikeliest political stories in memory after toppling Mr. Sweeney —  a union ironworker by trade, the top man in the state Senate since 2010 and a key player in Mr. Murphy‘s policies, such as a $15 per hour minimum wage.

The Associated Press called the race for Mr. Durr with 52% of the vote to Mr. Sweeney‘s 48%, a margin of just over 2,000 votes.

Mr. Durr, a father of three, told a YouTube interviewer what motivated him more than anything was being unable to get a concealed carry permit in a state that has very strict gun laws.

“That kind of angered me,” he told The Nader Narrative in August. “I wasn’t a politician, but I still don’t consider myself a politician.”

He said he looked at Mr. Sweeney‘s vote totals and felt he was vulnerable.

“There’s numbers out there to be taken, you just have to motivate and get the people to come out and vote,” he said on YouTube. “South Jersey is a pretty conservative area.”

Political observers said Mr. Sweeney was too well-known for his own good.

“Sweeney was a big fat target for angry or frustrated voters. Durr is a unicorn, his was the only other name on the ballot. If you are angry at A, you vote for B, even if you never heard of him,” said Ross Baker, a political science professor at Rutgers University. “It’s a typical protest vote and Sweeney is a big enough name to be recognizable.”

Mr. Murphy won reelection in a race against GOP challenger Jack Ciattarelli that was far closer than anyone expected. But Mr. Durr got a sufficient bounce from renewed Republican fervor and his decision to tie his opponent to disgust over COVID-19 lockdowns and mandates.  

“I’m absolutely nobody. I’m just a simple guy. It was the people, it was a repudiation of the policies that have been forced down their throats,” Mr. Durr told reporters Thursday, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer.

“It’s people told they can’t have a job. They can’t go to church. They can’t go to school. You can’t go shopping. They can’t go and eat dinner,” he said. “You cannot continue to tell people they cannot do things when we live in the freest country in the world. And you think you’re just gonna sit on your hands and do nothing. Gov. Murphy kept telling you, ‘no, no, no.’ And Sen. Sweeney sat there and all right, whatever. So the people said, ‘No, you’re not doing your job.’”

Mr. Sweeney hasn’t conceded yet, saying Thursday, “While I am currently trailing in the race, we want to make sure every vote is counted. Our voters deserve that, and we will wait for the final results.”

Assuming the results stand, Mr. Durr will represent the 3rd Legislative District in suburban Philadelphia, which covers parts of Cumberland, Gloucester and Salem counties. His race is resonating across the country.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott took note of Mr. Durr‘s blue-collar roots.

“Today’s Republican Party,” the governor tweeted.

Mr. Durr‘s era as senator-elect got off to a bit of a rough start, however. He apologized Friday for a 2019 tweet that said Mohammed was a “pedophile” and Islam is a “false religion.”

“I’m a passionate guy and I sometimes say things in the heat of the moment. If I said things in the past that hurt anybody’s feelings, I sincerely apologize,” he said in a statement. “I support everybody’s right to worship in any manner they choose and to worship the God of their choice. I support all people and I support everybody’s rights. That’s what I am here to do, work for the people and support their rights.”

• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at thowell@washingtontimes.com.

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