Democrat Vin Gopal Defies Odds in Monmouth County

The popular third-term state senator for the 11th district shares his secrets for working across the aisle.

Vin Gopal
Vin Gopal is a third-term state senator from the 11th District. Photo courtesy of District 11 Legislative Office

Vin Gopal, Monmouth County’s state senator for the 11th District, is the first Indian American politician elected to the New Jersey Senate and the first Democrat to hold the post in 30 years.

First elected in 2017, he’s been reelected twice, winning by a landslide in 2023.

Gopal, 38, grew up in Neptune Township and lives in Long Branch with his wife and daughter.

You’ve been a senator in the 11th District for over six years, winning three elections in a row. The post had been held by Republicans for almost 30 years. To what do you credit the turnaround?
It’s important to work across the aisle. People know I’m a former Democratic chair and that I have strong feelings on issues like abortion and LGBTQ+ rights. At the same time, I spend a lot of time building my Republican relationships. During my first campaign, the group that was really against me was the NRA. After the election, I reached out and asked if they wanted to go for a drink. They responded, “Let’s go shooting,” and I said, “Let’s go.” A bunch of them didn’t vote for me, but we were able to connect on our shared humanity. In politics at the federal level we see a lot of hostility. I’ve worked hard for that not to be the case here.

How are you working to overcome partisan division?
I’m trying to make life more affordable, looking out for seniors, fighting for mental health funding, and trying to lower prescription drug costs. Those go across party lines. I believe in a strong criminal justice system. Policing is a very tough job, going out there each day, not knowing what you’re going to face. Of course, like any profession, there needs to be reforms, there needs to be changes, there’s going to be bad actors. But I’ve always had the support of law enforcement groups. Right now in my district we’re getting crushed with home invasions and car thefts. Those are issues of public safety. Civility is my big thing.

This spring, a federal judge abolished the use of the “county line” ballot system in Democratic primaries (grouping candidates who are backed by county political parties on the same line on ballots). What effect will this decision have on elections in the state?
The county line ballot system is not relevant for me here because I’m in a county where there’s no primary for Democrats. Our fights are in November, not in June. But I’m very glad that this court case has turned out the way it has. Democrats have been doing it in more democratically concentrated areas in North and South Jersey. We see it all over. The Republican chairman, who’s also the sheriff of the county, uses the line to essentially throw people on and off like a dictatorship. This ruling is a healthy check on the power of political machines and party bosses.

Your colleague Andy Kim is on track to become the state’s first Asian American U.S. senator, replacing Bob Menendez, who’s been in office since 2006. What does this mean for New Jersey politics?
I’ve known Andy for a long time and he’s a great candidate, great guy, has done a lot for the AAPI community, and was very supportive of me when I ran last year. He wrote me a large check and campaigned for me. Andy is not a far-left-wing guy. He’s moderately progressive, and he’s very rational and practical. In a post-Menendez world, he’s going to really help the Democratic party in November.

Asian American and Pacific Islander voters are one of the fastest growing electoral groups in New Jersey. Speaking as a member of that community, what issues do you see as important to those voters?
I think it’s like other communities—public safety, cost of living, college education. A lot of Asian immigrants are very focused on education, making sure their kids and grandkids have it better than they did. Both my parents emigrated from India, so I get it. It’s hard right now. A lot of folks reach out to our office trying to get their kids internships, since there’s not a lot of AAPI legislators. We try to work with them. No matter what students want to do when they graduate, it’s important to know the political process.

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