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Wednesday January 26th, 2022 6:12AM

Durr grapples with new post as Sweeney cites 'red wave'

By The Associated Press
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WASHINGTON TOWNSHIP, N.J. (AP) —

The Republican state senator-elect who works as a furniture store truck driver and whose victory over New Jersey's powerful Senate president made national headlines acknowledged Wednesday how formidable the new role will be for him and added he's focused on thwarting Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy.

“I feel like I'm about to throw up,” Ed Durr said during a news conference after Senate President Steve Sweeney conceded the race, when asked if there's a learning curve for him. “This is all new to me. It’s all overwhelming, but I am very happy that the voters selected me. I’m going to earn that vote and I'm going to prove them right."

Durr, who drives a truck for Raymour & Flanigan, shocked the state and stunned Sweeney by coming out on top in their suburban Philadelphia district.

Sweeney conceded the contest shortly before Durr's appearance at Gloucester County Republican headquarters.

“I of course accept the results. I want to congratulate Mr. Durr and wish him the best of luck," Sweeney said during a speech at the statehouse complex Wednesday.

Sweeney said his loss to Durr, who spent at least $2,300 in the contest, was the result of overwhelming GOP turnout in his suburban, politically split district. Sweeney lost by about 2,000 votes after spending about $305,000 on his campaign.

“It was a red wave,” Sweeney said.

Durr said the victory stemmed from voters upset with Murphy's COVID-19 mask mandate in schools and the early-pandemic lockdown.

He said the “secret" to his win came down to two words: “Phil Murphy."

“’The voters have spoken," Durr said. “They don’t want government rule by a dangerous guy armed with a bunch of executive orders."

Murphy has called Durr, who's a strong supporter of former President Donald Trump, dangerous as well.

Durr responded to tweets he had made previously that called Islam “a false religion,” compared vaccine mandates to the Holocaust and defended rioters at the Capitol, saying he plans to meet with an Islamic group in the state

“You get behind the keyboard, you don’t see a person and you don’t consider the other person," Durr said. “I just wrote something that I don’t mean to offend anybody."

Asked whether he might change his approach to public commentary given his new role, Durr said he wants to represent the whole state, not just his district.

“I'm clearly not going to be responding irrationally," he said. “First off, I think I've grown as a person."

Murphy's victory was a lonely bright spot for Democrats, who lost seats in the Legislature as well as the the governor's race in Virginia.

Sweeney said he won't be withdrawing from public life, although he stopped short of saying whether he would seek election to the Senate again or run for governor in 2025. He said he'll continue to focus on “the things that are important to the people of this state.”

“What the voters said in this election is New Jersey is a state filled with hardworking people who want to provide for their families and as leaders we need to speak directly to the concerns of all voters,” he said. “I plan to keep speaking to those concerns.”

His loss unfolded in a politically competitive district that includes parts of Gloucester, Cumberland and Salem counties, which split their votes between Democrats and Republicans in the presidential elections in 2016 and again in 2020.

It also coincided with boosted GOP turnout in an off-year election that saw Republicans win across the state. Durr’s victory, which The Associated Press declared Thursday, netted about 3% more votes than Sweeney did in 2017 in unofficial returns.

Sweeney’s attention was also focused on tight Senate races elsewhere in the state.

Durr said Wednesday that although his campaign didn't spend much money, they knocked on thousands of doors.

Wednesday's speech was unusually formal for Sweeney, who stood before a lectern with the state seal, speaking in a quiet voice.

He said he entered politics after his daughter Lauren was born prematurely and had developmental disabilities. He said he stayed with her in the hospital because he had a good benefits at his job as a union ironworker.

“Twenty years later, I was able to make sure that all New Jersey parents had the same opportunity to be with their loved ones in their time of greatest need when the paid family leave bill I sponsored was signed into law," he said.

Sweeney served as Senate president since 2010 and was responsible for shepherding Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy’s progressive agenda through the Legislature, including a phased-in $15 an hour minimum wage, paid sick leave and recreational marijuana legalization.

He is also known for his high-profile reversal on opposition to same-sex marriage. Sweeney said in 2011 that he made the “biggest mistake of my legislative career” when he voted against marriage equality.

Although Sweeney was a fellow Democrat, he fought Murphy at the start of his administration over raising income taxes on the wealthy, and had worked closely with Republican Chris Christie during his eight-year term in office ending in 2018.

A deal he worked out with Christie to overhaul public worker pensions put Sweeney at odds with public sector unions, who would go on to become key supporters of Murphy.

Although he has clashed with Sweeney, Murphy said last week he bemoaned the loss and said he didn't welcome the news.

Sweeney said he wouldn't be seeking a recount, which is not automatic in New Jersey and would have to be financed by the party seeking the tally.

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