In one of the more remarkable upsets of Tuesday's elections, a New Jersey truck driver who spent less than $200 on his campaign unseated a longtime state Senate president.
While early vote tabulations led many outlets to report that Democrat Steve Sweeney had won reelection in New Jersey's 3rd Legislative District, continued counts showed that a political newcomer — Edward Durr, the Republican nominee — was actually leading by 4 points, or a little more than 2,000 votes.
The Associated Press called the race on Thursday.
Durr, with two prior unsuccessful campaigns to his name, had bested a longtime political power player — buoyed, it seems, by Republican enthusiasm and backlash to Democrats.
Speaking to NJ.com, Durr said he watched the results with his grandchildren while eating pizza in his living room.
"We kept saying: 'What if? What if? What if?' " Durr, who had reportedly run
for a city council seat and a General Assembly seat before this, told the outlet. "It got a little more real each hour."
Sweeney, 62, is the longest-serving Senate president in New Jersey history and, as Politico notes, "the second most powerful official in New Jersey government," with a long history of shaping major legislation on raising the minimum wage, paid leave and others.
He was also reportedly mulling a future run for governor — a campaign that would have been launched once he served a seventh term in the state Senate.
"It is stunning and shocking and I cannot figure it out," the state Senate Majority Leader told the AP.
Sweeney has not publicly commented.
Hello NJ, I am Edward Durr, the Republican senate candidate for legislative district 3. I'm a father of 3 & grandfather of 6. Life long resident of NJ. Not seeking power or fame, only give the people better representation. Lower taxes! Transparency! @nj1015 @1210WPHT @GlouCoGOP pic.twitter.com/YiOCzFjtSw
— Edward Durr (@edwarddurr1) July 23, 2021
A lifelong New Jersey resident, the 62-year-old Durr describes himself as "Christian, Blue Collar, Father of 3, Grandfather to 6" on his Twitter bio. His campaign website says he has worked as a truck driver for 25 years and entered the race because he wanted to see "government return to the hands of the people."
Durr did not respond to emails or phone calls made by PEOPLE on Thursday, but he attributed his success to a local backlash against COVID-19 restrictions when speaking to Fox News Primetime Wednesday.
"I didn't beat him [Sweeney]. We beat him," Durr said on Fox. "The state of New Jersey, the people of New Jersey beat him. They listened to what I had to say and I listened to what they had to say, and it's a repudiation of Gov. Murphy [who] locked us down and ignored the people's voice and senator Sweeney chose to do nothing for those 18 months."
A fan of former President Donald Trump, Durr admitted he lacks experience in policy-making — but told Fox News he plans to learn as he goes.
"That's the key factor. I don't know what I don't know, but I will learn what I need to know," he told Fox. "And I'm going to guarantee one thing. I will be the voice and people will hear me because if there is one thing people will learn about me, I got a big mouth and I don't shut up when I want to be heard. I'm going to be heard."
Perhaps the most surprising thing about Durr's campaign success, however, was his bare-bones campaign.
His campaign video, he told Fox, was shot on an iPhone by one of his friend's nephews.
Durr said in an August interview he was inspired to run for the state Senate seat in 2021 after being denied a concealed carry permit.
"I guess what motivated me more than anything was I went for my concealed carry. I was told flat-out by the local sheriff, 'Don't even bother.' And that kind of angered me," Durr said then. "I'm a truck driver .... I've never been arrested and I couldn't get a concealed carry? That really angered me, so I looked into what can you do to get into politics."
Speaking to NJ.com this week, Durr said he was as surprised as anyone with the apparent results.
"I joked with people and I said, 'I'm going to shock the world, I'm going to beat this man,' " he said. "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."