5:10 PM PT: Looks like the first trickle of votes is coming in.
5:35 PM PT (Steve Singiser): We're getting out first significant returns in now, and they (mostly) confirm what everyone has expected: a comfortable lead for Democrat Cory Booker. Most of the early precincts are from Democratic Camden County, and pro-GOP Ocean County has reported a pretty sizeable amount of absentees. The net result? Booker leads 54-45, with about 69,000 votes counted.
5:37 PM PT (Steve Singiser): Well, this is either supreme confidence, or more than a tad premature. The DSCC has issued a statement about Cory Booker's election night "victory" in the Garden State. The overall margin, for what it is worth, is currently 53-46 Booker.
5:41 PM PT (Steve Singiser): Before anyone gets concerned, note this: only 6000 of the 84,000-ish votes tallied thus far hail from Essex, Hudson, Mercer or Union Counties. These are four large counties in-state that gave Barack Obama anywhere between 66-78 percent of the vote.
5:42 PM PT (Steve Singiser): Heh. No sooner do I type those words than Essex begins to chime in. The net result? Booker's lead balloons to 57-42 overall, with 7 percent of precincts reporting.
5:47 PM PT (Steve Singiser): The bad news for Booker in the latest batch of returns? His lead was shaved back to seven percent (53-46). The good news? One of the few staunchly Republican counties in the state just dumped a bunch of votes, as Ocean County chimes in. Pro-Democratic Camden County is nearly fully reported, as well. Booker is carrying it 64-35. Obama carried it 68-31. If the swing is uniform, that would portend about a ten-point win for Booker when all is said and done.
5:49 PM PT (Steve Singiser): FYI: A sign of how truly putrid turnout was today lies in the aforementioned returns from Camden County. Last year, in the wake of Sandy, there were nearly 226,000 votes recorded in Camden. Tonight, with all but 18 precincts reporting? It's looking like it will be around 60,000 or so.
5:58 PM PT (Steve Singiser): We now have 22 percent of precincts reporting, and the margin remains the same: a 53-46 lead for the Democrat. Some swing-to-conservative territory has reported heavily, though, while Essex, Mercer, and Union have only reported a handful of votes.
Looking at counties that are >75 percent reporting, we can see some trendlines. We already showed an 8-point swing in Camden. In Gloucester County (90% in), it is tied 49-49. Obama carried Gloucester 55-44. So, here, it is a larger swing of 11 points. Still, a net victory for Booker, but possibly in the high single digits.
6:02 PM PT (Steve Singiser): One county where Booker isn't doing substantially worse than Obama is Monmouth County. Carried by Romney 52-47 last year, this county is about two-thirds in, and is going to Lonegan by a 54-45 margin. That's only a four-point swing, which would portend a double-digit win for the Democrat. With only 22 percent in, though, it's awfully early.
6:05 PM PT (Steve Singiser): The margin has trickled down to 52-47 Booker, but worthy of note: there were seven counties in New Jersey where Mitt Romney beat Barack Obama. The majority of the votes have already been tallied in three of them.
6:14 PM PT (Steve Singiser): We are right at the point where one-third of precincts are reporting, and Cory Booker maintains a 52-47 lead over Steve Lonegan. This is looking like Ohio 2012 at the presidential level, in that the race looks artificially closer than it is, because so much of what is left to report leans Democratic.
6:16 PM PT (Steve Singiser): Case in point: big vote dumps just came in from Essex and Union Counties. They manage to push Booker back into a double-digit lead (55-44) over the Republican.
6:20 PM PT (Steve Singiser): GOP-friendly Hunterdon County is nearly all reported now, and Lonegan won there 61-38. Romney carried it 58-40, so the swing there was a relatively minor five points. Turnout vis-a-vis 2012 was pathetic here as well, but comparably better than blue Camden County.