Five key GOP races to watch on Primary Night 2015

By Matt Rooney | The Save Jersey Blog

There are plenty of primaries to enjoy today if you’re a glutton for political warfare, Save Jerseyans, spread across 40 legislative districts, 21 counties and 565 municipalities. You can find a partial round-up of some Jersey Shore fights here; we posted our own run-down of a few key Bergen mayoral contests over here. Of course we’ll keep you updated if we hear anything good throughout the day/evening. 

Unsurprisingly, however, I’m personally focused on the races carrying the largest potential for impact on Garden State Republicanism:

Morris County Open Freeholder Primary

Why does this one matter so much? At the risk of repeating myself, it’s been a perfect storm of craziness with the real potential to transform New Jersey politics. Populous, wealthy, and strongly-Republican Morris hosts open Republican primaries (defined: there is no “line”) making it was easy for post-Citizens United independent expenditure groups and Big Labor to intervene and exploit intra-party factions this cycle. That’s why Chairman John Sette waded in and backed the team of Freeholder Dave Scapicchio, Freeholder John Krickus and Denville Councilwoman Deborah Smith in the freeholder contest over Freeholder John Cesaro and his “Morris First” running mates Christine Myers and Angelo Tedesco, the latter slate having received substantial support from Democrat groups. Weathering some scrutiny, the beneficiaries have said that all of the IE/union spending is indicative of broad-based support for their message/record; while I’ve avoided jumping to conclusion in this race, Save Jerseyans, we all know Democrat groups don’t pour huge sums of money into Republican primaries for altruistic reasons.

The macro question: How long before IE groups head to other counties, too, and special interest groups and untraceable shadowy donors supplant political parties as the organizing principle around which state elections operate?

The micro analysis: Split ticket? And Sette’s fate, too.

Morristown National Historical Park (Photo credit: Jared Kofsky/PlaceNJ.com)
Morristown National Historical Park (Photo credit: Jared Kofsky/PlaceNJ.com)

Parsippany Municipal GOP Primary

See above. The same drama, with the same factions and same levels of outside interference, is playing out in this large town that’s also crucial in terms of turnout for the freeholder race. Here, Councilman Paul Carifi, Jr. and his running mates, Aida Visakay and John Beehler, are taking Councilman Mike dePierroand his ticket which includes Loretta Gragnani and former Councilman Vincent Ferrara. Carifi routinely teams with Councilmen Louis Valori and Robert Peluso on the 5-member council. Outside support for dePierro’s ticket is such that Jeff Brindle, head of non-partisan New Jersey’s Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC), took the unusual step of penning an op-ed singling out the Parsippany situation as emblematic of the need for new, further-reaching disclosure requirements.

LD24 GOP Assembly Primary

The contest to replace the retiring Alison Littell McHose, pitting incumbent Assemblyman Parker Space and Sussex County Freeholder Gail Phoebus against former Green Mayor Marie Bilik and 23-year old Branchville resident Nathan Orr, has been so surprisingly brutal that veteran Sussex Chairwoman Ailish Hambel is stepping down next week at least partly because of it, telling committee members in a pre-primary weekend email that “[a]fter Tuesday the party will need healing and I am not in a position to lead the charge.” So there’s implications in the outcome for North Jersey Republicans beyond the fact that this is the NJ GOP’s only legitimately competitive 2015 legislative primary.

Old Bridge GOP

It all started when state Senator Sam Thompson, the effective blue county chairman of Middlesex who has made serious progress at the local level in recent cycles, broke with precedent and overrode the screening committee, replacing Council President Debbie Walker on the organization line with Councilman-at-large Brian Cahill (this isn’t Morris). Cahill and incumbent Councilman-at-Large James Anderson are consequently facing-off against Walker and former municipal chair Anita Greenberg. Now the mud is flying faster than anyone can keep track. The risk? For starters, a significant level of rank-and-file disapproval throughout the county engendering a full-scale rebellion against Thompson in a key GOP town and beyond.

West Milford GOP

The battle lines in West Milford should be familiar: former Passaic County GOP Chairman Peter Murphy is reportedly backing Luciano “Lou” Signorino for the West Milford mayoral nomination against the establishment-backed Mike Ramaglia. There’s even been  allegations of violated campaign finance and state Alcohol Beverage Control laws, but it’s only the latest chapter in the seemingly never-ending turf war between Murphy and the Asm. Scott Rumana-era Passaic County GOP. Obviously a Signorino win wouldn’t do anything to avert future insurgent actions.

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