Election Day in Paradise (New Jersey)

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(Delaware is also voting today.)

The primary elections in the Garden State are being conducted almost entirely by mail, a process that has encountered a few hiccups, most notably a design flaw on the ballot envelopes that caused Postal Service scanners to mark completed ballots mailed in by voters as “return to sender.”

But beyond pushing New Jersey’s election infrastructure to the brink, this election is also seriously testing another Garden State institution: its vaunted political machines.

As states across the country have seen their entrenched political apparatuses weakened, famously when Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez upset Joseph Crowley in a 2018 New York congressional primary, the powerful political machines in New Jersey have stood strong, fortifying those in power and keeping outside challengers at bay.

But Gov. Philip D. Murphy, a Democrat, has long been at war with George E. Norcross, the Democratic power broker from South Jersey, setting up a fractious first term for Mr. Murphy full of intraparty struggles.

That proxy battle is playing out in one of the most closely watched House races in the country, in New Jersey’s Second District — part of Mr. Norcross’s traditional turf, and home to Representative Jeff Van Drew, the Democrat turned Republican.

For Democrats in New Jersey and across the country, Mr. Van Drew’s switch to the G.O.P. in December, after he voted against impeaching President Trump, was nothing short of a betrayal.

But the primary in South Jersey has turned toxic, fracturing the state’s Democratic establishment along lines both familiar and foreign to those who closely follow the political machinations of Trenton.

Backing Amy Kennedy, a mental health advocate and former teacher who is part of the Kennedy political diaspora, is Mr. Murphy, along with progressive activists and labor unions who often side with him.

With Mr. Murphy supporting Ms. Kennedy, it is unsurprising to Trenton insiders that her opponent, Brigid Callahan Harrison, a professor at Montclair State University, has the backing of two fellow Democrats who are often at odds with the governor: Stephen M. Sweeney, the State Senate president; and Mr. Norcross.

But Ms. Harrison also has the support of Senators Robert Menendez and Cory Booker, the popular junior senator who is up for re-election. He is “bracketing” Ms. Harrison on the ballot, meaning they both will be listed in the same column.

The race has been marked less by the racial justice movement that has shaped recent races in other states and more by local issues, namely infrastructure and economic needs along the Jersey Shore, health care reform and marijuana legalization.

In the northern part of the state, two progressive challengers have mounted aggressive campaigns against two moderate Democrats.

Arati S. Kreibich, a neuroscientist, is challenging Representative Josh Gottheimer, one of the few Democrats in the country who flipped a congressional seat in the 2016 election. Ms. Kreibich has received the endorsement of national progressive leaders like Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who has been sending text messages to his presidential campaign lists in support of Ms. Kreibich.

But Mr. Gottheimer, who has the backing of national Democrats like Speaker Nancy Pelosi and is one of the most prolific fund-raisers in the Democratic caucus, has turned back close challenges before.

Representative Albio Sires, who was elected to Congress in 2006, is facing a stiff challenge from a 32-year-old lawyer, Hector Oseguera, who has been a fixture at recent Black Lives Matter rallies and protests. Mr. Sires, who has long enjoyed the support of the powerful northern New Jersey political machine, has been campaigning more aggressively over the past few weeks.

The results from these closely watched races very likely won’t be known for a while: As in other states that have shifted to a largely mail-in ballot system, in New Jersey ballots can trickle in for up to a week after Election Day, and local clerks’ offices are often slow to count them. So official results in New Jersey could be, well, a long time coming.

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President Trump delivered a fiery and divisive diatribe over the Fourth of July weekend, branding his political opponents as part of a “new far-left fascism” that incites “angry mobs” to “unleash a wave of violent crime in our cities.”

In keeping with that theme, Mr. Trump’s campaign has been airing an ad that tries to tie Joe Biden, his November opponent, to a dystopian vision seemingly plucked from the imaginations of the Fox News prime-time lineup. It skewers calls by some activists to “defund the police,” even though Mr. Biden has said he does not support such a policy.

The message: The ad opens with a phone ringing in a closed police station, as an answering service clicks on: “You have reached the 911 police emergency line. Due to defunding of the police department, we’re sorry, but no one is here to take your call.” The ad shifts to a split screen, with violent scenes from protests set against the still unanswered phone. (On the whole, the recent nationwide protests against racial injustice have been largely peaceful.)

The answering service ticks through a menu of crimes before concluding: “Our estimated wait time is five days. Goodbye.”

The takeaway: While there have been many calls for overhauling police practices and diverting some funding to other priorities, few Democratic officials actually support fully defunding or abolishing the police.

But the Trump campaign has spent more than $2.2 million on this ad in just six days, roughly a third of its overall advertising budget for the past week. This ad is the latest indication that Mr. Trump plans to make a culture war central to his campaign.


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