TRENTON, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — There was a major upset in the race in South Jersey’s 3rd Legislative District. Senate President Steve Sweeney is out, defeated by a truck driver who spent little on the campaign.

CBS2’s Meg Baker has more on how the result drastically changes the state’s power dynamics.

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Republican state Sen.-elect Edward Durr was seen in his campaign video stepping down from his truck to introduce himself. He’s from the rural town of Swedesboro in Gloucester County. He just beat Sweeney, who has served the state since 2002, and who has been talked about as a possible candidate for governor in 2025.

“Absolutely I thought it was possible, but did I think it was a reality? It didn’t set in until I actually saw the numbers,” Durr told the Philadelphia Inquirer.

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Joshua Henne is a Democratic strategist.

“Anyone who said they saw this coming is lying. Even Sweeney’s opponent didn’t see this coming,” Henne said.

“I want this job. I don’t want all the fame, but I want this job,” Durr said. “I want to be the voice. I want to be somebody who can speak for the people. Because, one, I got a big mouth, so I like to make myself heard.”

Durr describes himself as Christian and blue collar with strong conservative beliefs. He’s a member of the National Rifle Association and a truck driver for Raymour & Flanigan. He barely campaigned, and his campaign video was shot from a smartphone.

He defeated Sweeney by a little more than 2,200 votes.

Watch Meg Baker’s report —

“It didn’t happen because of me. I’m nobody. I’m just a simple guy,” Durr said. “It was a repudiation of the policies that have been forced down our throat, people told they can’t go to school, can’t go shopping. You cannot continue to tell people they can’t do things when we live in the freest country in the world.”

As CBS2’s Dick Brennan reports, Durr channeled voter outrage over government dysfunction, taxes and coronavirus shutdowns.

“They were tired of being ignored. We had a legislature who decided to do absolutely nothing for the last 18 months. They allowed Governor Murphy to run roughshod, rule as a king,” he said.

The shocker in South Jersey comes as Gov. Phil Murphy barely squeaks by in his race that the polls had him winning easily. The races were both wake-up calls for Democrats.

“What Democrats need to do is steer away from the culture wars and push back with those kitchen table issues, things like gas prices, property taxes, those items that drive voters to the polls because they engage the economic anxiety that they already have,” said Basil Smikle, director of the public policy program at Hunter College.

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Edward Durr (Credit: CBS2)

Durr’s win is an incredible story, but he says one told about him just doesn’t check out — the one about how he spent only $153 on his campaign. He says that’s not true.

“You guys go in on the New Jersey Elect, obviously, and you find $153 filed. Well, that was back in May, June. That shows how behind New Jersey government is on keeping things updated,” Durr said.

Newly selected Republican Leader Sen. Steve Oroho said Durr will represent his constituents well.

“He said it that he likes to listen,  he likes to listen to the people, and then, obviously, he believes his voice is the voice for the people,” Oroho said.

Outside of government, Sweeney is a paid officer in the International Ironworkers Union. As Senate president, his ability to decide what laws get considered rivals the power of the governors he worked with.

So how does a political king such as Sweeney get knocked out so easily by a guy who threw his hat in the ring on a whim?

“Democrats need to enthuse their base and they need to talk about things more than just Donald Trump. You have to talk about things that are making lives better for people in their day-to-day lives,” Henne said.

Political strategist Jeanette Hoffman says when election issues include the economy, taxes and schools, Republicans do really well, adding the power dynamics in the statehouse will be changing.

“It will be interesting to see who’s going to control the agenda in the statehouse and will that person work together with the next governor,” Hoffman said.

“I’m not gonna change nothing. People are going to change. Just, trust me. The people’s voices have been heard,” Durr said.

Sweeney says he won’t concede.

“I’m very disappointed, just because the amount of work that we’ve done here in this district and the resources that we’ve brought here. But at the end of the day, the voters have a right to speak,” he said.

Sweeney says it’s important that all the votes be counted.

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CBS2’s Meg Baker contributed to this report. This story first appeared on November 4, 2021.

Dick Brennan