Yes, Glenn Youngkin’s win in the Virginia governor’s race was the most consequential result in Tuesday’s election. But, it wasn’t the biggest upset.
That title goes to Edward Durr, a little known – and even little-r financed – Republican who appears to have unseat Stephen Sweeney, the state Senate majority leader and one of the most powerful Democrats in the Garden State.
CNN has not yet made a projection in the race, but a count as of late Thursday morning showed Durr holding a 2,298-vote lead with 51.8% of the vote to Sweeney’s 48.1%. (Note: There may be a sizable number of ballots left to count in these counties, and if there are mail-in ballots, they could tighten the margin.)
Sweeney was considered a shoo-in for the South Jersey seat he has held since 2004. He is the longest-tenured state Senate leader in New Jersey history and was widely expected to run for governor in 2025 when current Gov. Phil Murphy (D) is term limited out of office. (Murphy eked out a second term over Republican Jack Ciattarelli on Tuesday.)
Durr, on the other hand, had only a losing race for state Assembly in 2019 under his belt. He spent two decades as a commercial truck driver and only decided to run against Sweeney when he was denied a concealed carry permit for a gun.
“Well, I’m a numbers guy and I’ve looked at the numbers over the years,” Durr said in August. “We have a district that is 150,000 voters. Senator Sweeney has never broken 32,000 votes … and so I felt if he can’t even get half the district, that means there’s numbers out there to be taken, and you just have to get people to come out and vote. I believe if they come out and vote, we could win.”
Durr raised more than $10,000 for his campaign but, according to spending records detailed by WCAU, an NBC Philadelphia TV station, he spent only $153 on his campaign: $66.64 at Dunkin and $86.67 for flyers and business cards. (That’s a LOT of Dunkin.)
Given Sweeney’s powerful post and his, um, relative lack of resources, even Durr admitted to NJ.com that he didn’t expect to win.
“I joked with people and I said, ‘I’m going to shock the world, I’m going to beat this man,’” he said Wednesday. “I was saying it, but really kind of joking. Because what chance did a person like me really stand against this man? He’s literally the second-most powerful person in the state of New Jersey.”
So, how did Durr do it? Well, as evidenced by Murphy’s close call, there was a clear Republican wind blowing in the state (and in the country). And it’s possible that Sweeney bore some lingering scars from his 2017 race when the New Jersey Education Association went all out to oust him – spending totaled more than $20 million in the race.
And, it seems clear now that Sweeney underestimated Durr – hugely.