Incumbent 2nd District Democrats Vince Mazzeo and John Armato were in a virtual dead heat with Republican challengers after the polls closed, but were ahead in the vote-by-mails.
"It looks very good -- especially for Vince," Armato said. "See what happens tomorrow."
Mazzeo said he remained cautiously optimistic, even though turnout was low.
Atlantic County Board of Elections Chairperson Lynn Caterson said the Board of Elections will not meet again until next Wednesday, because it will take time for the county Superintendent of Elections to vet all of the provisional votes that came in. So final results are at least a week away.
Mazzeo, a Northfield produce store owner, had 24.8% of the votes cast, or 17,137; and his running mate, John Armato, a Buena Vista Township volunteer firefighter, had 23.3%, or 16,101.
Challenger Republican Philip Guenther, the former longtime mayor of Brigantine and a school superintendent, had 25.98% of the vote, or 17,952; and his running mate John Risley, an Egg Harbor Township financial services professional, had 25.91%, or 17,906.
The Democrats did, however, have roughly twice as many votes by mail as of Tuesday night, with Mazzeo getting 4,723 and Armato 4,503; Guenther 2,217 and Risley 2,263, according to the Board of Elections.
With the mail-ins tallied, the two Democrats are a few hundred votes to almost 2,000 votes ahead.
"It's very close. We'll know better as the other numbers come in over the following days," Guenther said. "I want to thank my wife for letting me come out of retirement. No matter how it comes out, we as republicans have the right ideas. I can tell you right now, John and I have a warm place in our hearts for the reception we got in your towns."
"Politics is not an endgame. It's ongoing," Risley said. "I'm going to keep serving no matter how it turns out. I want to say thank you to everyone who put up a sign or sent in a check. The fight goes on."
Election results will not be final until all provisional ballots are researched and counted, and about 500 mail-in votes and 200 messenger ballots are yet to be counted.
The number of provisional votes will not be definitively known for days. Provisionals are paper ballots filled out at the polls when a voter shows up and is on the list for already receiving a mail-in ballot. Before his/her provisional ballot can be counted, election officials have to be sure no mail-in was recorded in the voter’s name.
Since mail-in votes postmarked by Election Day are accepted up to 48 hours after the close of polls, it takes days to even figure out how many eligible provisionals are there.
The Democrats outspent Republicans by more than three times. Mazzeo and Armato’s joint committee spent $185,462.15, according to the most recent report to the state, while the candidates individually spent another $111,604.93 and $100,075.25, respectively. That’s a total for the Democratic pair of almost $400,000.
Guenther and Risley’s joint committee, on the other hand, spent $42,105.42, according to its most recent report, while the GOP candidates spent $46,107.42 and $46,103.42, respectively. The Republican total was about $134,000.
Mazzeo and Armato had a slight lead over Republican challengers Risley and Guenther in a Stockton University poll released the Friday before the election.
Risley, a Republican Atlantic County freeholder, and Guenther, superintendent of the Atlantic County Vocational School District and Special Services School District, each polled at 22%.
The poll also predicted a light turnout, because only 439 of 614 registered voters questioned were deemed likely to vote based on screening questions, according to John Froonjian, interim executive director of the William J. Hughes Center for Public Policy.
“Only 15% of respondents are following the election news very closely, and 40% are not following the race — another indication this could be a low-interest election,” Froonjian said.
Low-turnout elections usually favor incumbents who are generally better known and better funded, Froonjian said.
“But the 2nd District is always competitive,” Froonjian said. “Partisan party control of these Assembly seats has flipped between the major parties multiple times for several decades.”
Many voters have not paid close attention to some of the 2nd District issues in the news. Even an issue as long-running and high-profile as the state takeover of Atlantic City had 32% saying they were unsure about whether they support it or didn’t know enough about the issue to have an opinion. Another 35% support the state takeover, with 26% opposed.
A takeover of Atlantic City International Airport by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey was supported by 37% and opposed by 24%, with 36% unfamiliar with the issue.