Jack Ciattarelli wasn’t the only Republican to score an upset of sorts on Wednesday night, Save Jerseyans, which means Asw. Betty Lou DeCroce (R-12) is no longer the only 2017 GOP legislative incumbent in real primary jeopardy.
Also in Middlesex County, where Ciattarelli overcame NJGOP gubernatorial primary front runner Kim Guadagno and prevented the committee from being able to formally recommend a candidate to the March 25 convention, veteran State Senator Sam Thompson (R-12) won the raw vote last night but similarly failed to secure enough votes to earn a solo recommendation.
Thompson’s challenger is Art Haney, chairman of the Old Bridge Republicans (a hotbed of anti-Thompson Republicanism). Save Jersey was the first to report shortly before the screening committee meeting on Haney’s expressed anger over Chairwoman Lucille Panos‘s decision to move the upcoming convention’s location from Old Bridge (where roughly half of the convention’s voters will originate) to Edison. Panos says it was a purely logistical decision intended to accommodate over 850 expected convention participants; Haney insisted it was tactical and designed to thwart his insurgent campaign.
Wednesday night’s screening committee vote ultimately went 11 for Thompson and 7 for Haney.
If Haney’s Old Bridge contingent can power him over”the line” next weekend?
Our sources steeped in Middlesex Republican politics (all of whom have run and won local races in recent years) say Thompson could face an uphill slog to re-nomination in June, particularly given the fact that (1) Old Bridge’s formidable faction loyal to Haney will turn out for its own and (2) Bill Layton‘s Burlington County Republican organization has decided, in a decision that has raised plenty of eyebrows in power circles, to lay claim to Thompson’s seat by throwing its full financial and institutional weight behind Haney. The all-important money game will therefore be level (at a minimum) or even titled in Haney’s favor.
“In trouble” doesn’t equal “done” or over by any means. Thompson is an experienced convention pro and enjoys deep name recognition. Dislodging him won’t be easy, Haney partisans admit, making next Saturday’s convention vote all the more momentous for everyone involved. He also has the line in Ocean and Monmouth portions of the district, more than balancing out (proponents argue) any hypothetical deficit from Burlington and Middlesex portions of the district notwithstanding the problems associated with losing one’s home county where you also served as GOP chairman.
Another X factor? Panos (Thompson’s ally) is working hard to whip votes for the LG which could, indirectly, help save Thompson. The unknown factor? Cross-over Thompson-Ciattarelli or Guagadno-Haney voters if they exist in any significant number.