New Jersey Republicans defied expectations Tuesday night and won key battleground races in South Jersey.

Democrats will not lose their majority in the assembly, which stood at 54-26 going into election night. Experts predicted they will lose between two and four seats to Republicans as campaign results finalize.

The biggest surprises of the night came in South Jersey’s battleground districts, where Democrats were looking to build on their momentum from the 2018 midterm elections and make gains in areas that historically leaned conservative.

In District 1, State Sen. Bob Andrzejczak lost his reelection bid Tuesday to Republican challenger Mike Testa in one of the key races in South Jersey.

With unofficial results showing Testa with a six-percentage-point lead, the Democratic incumbent conceded the race for the 1st District, according to Sam Rivers, a campaign manager for local Democrats.

In the same district, which covers Atlantic, Cape May, and Cumberland Counties, Democratic incumbents Bruce Land and Matthew Milam conceded their Assembly race to Republican challengers Erik Simonsen and Antwan McClellan. Unofficial results showed Simonsen and McClellan leading by a four-point margin late Tuesday.

In South Jersey’s other hotly contested race, for Assembly in the 8th District, which spans most of Burlington County and parts of Atlantic and Camden Counties, Democratic candidates Gina LaPlaca and Mark Natale conceded to Republican candidates Ryan Peters and Jean Stanfield.

“While we didn’t win, we are incredibly proud of the race we ran and are grateful for the support we’ve received across the district,” said LaPlaca and Natale in a statement late Tuesday. “It was incredibly humbling to be a part of this process, and we do not regret a thing. Now it’s up to Ryan Peters and Jean Stanfield to prove to the residents of the 8th that they can best represent them in the state Assembly.”

NJ 8th District Assembly candidate Democrat Gina LaPlaca thanks supporters after the Democrats conceded that race at the Deerwood Country Club in Westampton just after 10:30 pm on November 5, 2019.
ELIZABETH ROBERTSON / Staff Photographer
NJ 8th District Assembly candidate Democrat Gina LaPlaca thanks supporters after the Democrats conceded that race at the Deerwood Country Club in Westampton just after 10:30 pm on November 5, 2019.

The results in the 8th were a setback for Democrats who turned the district increasingly blue in the Trump era. Tuesday’s loss dampens the momentum Democrats gained in 2018 when Democrat Andy Kim narrowly beat former Republican U.S. Rep. Tom MacArthur in New Jersey’s 3rd Congressional District.

In the 2nd District, which spans Atlantic county, Republican challengers Philip Guenther and John Risley narrowly lead Democratic incumbents Vincent Mazzeo and John Armato. Mail in ballots are being counted. The race is too close to call.

There were no surprises in South Jersey’s other Assembly races.

Democrat William Spearman won reelection in the 5th District, which also covers parts of Camden and Gloucester Counties. He won a full term after filling the Assembly seat vacated by Arthur Barclay, who was arrested on an assault charge in 2018. Democrat and Camden County Freeholder William Moen won the other Assembly seat up for grabs.

In the 6th District, Democratic incumbents Louis Greenwald and Pamela Lampitt were reelected to represent parts of Burlington and Camden Counties.

Democratic candidates Herb Conaway and Carol Murphy were reelected in New Jersey’s 7th District, which covers portions of Burlington County.

In New Jersey’s 9th District, which covers parts of Atlantic, Burlington and Ocean Counties, Republican incumbents Brian Rumpf and DiAnne Gove won their Assembly seats again.

Political experts had predicted low voter turnout Tuesday, common for an off-year election without a governor’s race and with Assembly races atop the ballot.

Turnout hovered around 25% for this year’s general election, according to unofficial campaign returns.

But New Jersey’s new vote-by-mail law caused a surge in mail-in ballots. Counting those ballots could delay tight races being called. As of Tuesday, about 240,000 ballots had been sent by mail, almost 150% higher than in the 2015 election, according to state data.

As of Wednesday morning, Democrats had won 38 seats in the lower chamber, while Republicans claimed 18, according to unofficial campaign results.