For nearly a decade, Stephen M. Sweeney, the second most powerful lawmaker in New Jersey, seemed truly unassailable. He boasted deep ties to the most feared political power broker in the state and unyielding support from the influential building trade unions. Four years ago, the state’s teachers union spent more than $5 million to unseat him. He won by 18 points.
This year, his challenger was Edward Durr, a truck driver for Raymour & Flanagan, a furniture chain, who had never before held office. His campaign video was shot on a smartphone.
Yet Mr. Sweeney, the State Senate president and a Democrat, was ousted in a shocking political upset by Mr. Durr, a Republican, as voters opted for a political unknown in a result that immediately rattled the political moorings of the state, and was perhaps more emblematic of the predicament facing Democrats in suburban and exurban communities than any other result handed down on Election Day.
The Associated Press called the race on Thursday morning, as Mr. Durr maintained a 2,298-vote lead over Mr. Sweeney with all precincts counted.
Though Mr. Sweeney’s district in the southwestern part of the state has never been deeply blue like the northeastern counties, it has reliably elected a Democrat since its creation in 1973, save for one year when the Democratic incumbent switched parties.
Largely composed of blue-collar suburbs and parts of the city of Camden, Mr. Sweeney held a vise grip on the district through powerful allies and a decidedly moderate record, playing to his background as an ironworker and union leader.
But as support for Democrats evaporated in the suburbs and exurbs in both New Jersey and Virginia, Mr. Sweeney found himself without the working-class backing he had so often relied on; being a Democratic lawmaker during an era of coronavirus lockdowns, mandates in schools and dysfunction in Washington was enough to erode what was once unshakable support.
This is a developing story and will be updated.