Steve Lonegan continued his (to date) sweep of NJ-05 legislative endorsements on Wednesday, Save Jerseyans, announcing the backing of Morris County conservative Joe Pennacchio (R-26). 

“West Milford knows and trusts Steve Lonegan to fight for our conservative values,” said state Senator Pennacchio, referring to the key 5th District outpost overlapping with his own legislative territory. 

The 2009 Christie gubernatorial rival has certainly come a long way in terms of affecting a reconciliation with certain establishment forces. The former Bogota mayor and frequent candidate for state and federal office has also been endorsed by Bergen County State Senator Gerald “Gerry” Cardinale, Warren County State Senator Mike Doherty (a long time ally), Sussex County Senator Steve Oroho, Assemblyman Parker Space, and Assemblyman-elect Hal Wirths. 

A constant: Lonegan still punches, too, and 2018 will be no exception. He’s already online with a website — “Real John McCann” — attacking his opponent’s Cresskill council record as well as his work on behalf of the Bergen County Sheriff’s Office.

Former Councilman John McCann, meanwhile, insists Lonegan’s string of legislative endorsements are predicated on… #fakenews.

“Recent Lonegan endorsements were received under false pretenses,” the candidate insisted in a Tuesday statement received by Save Jersey, arguing that Lonegan’s recent National Republican Campaign Committee (NRCC) ‘Young Guns’ designation is not a de facto endorsement by the House GOP’s electoral arm. “He has lied to those elected officials. This race will come down to someone who has a demonstrated fiscal conservative record versus someone who just babbles on and on. All Steve does is pound the table loudly and lie repeatedly. He does not have the endorsement of the NRCC and it is unfortunate that he has misled elected officials.”

Most if not all of Lonegan’s recent campaign releases include mention of the NRCC’s alleged formal endorsement. 

Given that the competing camps can’t even agree on whether the NRCC endorsement is a thing (let alone if was actually given), I decided to follow up directly with the NRCC. Its spokesman confirmed to me that they have not — and will not — issue a formal endorsement in NJ-05’s primary.

“While the NRCC does not endorse in primaries, we are excited to include Steve Lonegan in the Young Guns Program as well as future Republican candidates who are interested in joining. We look forward to working with the eventual nominee to defeat Josh Gottheimer,” said NRCC spokesman Chris Martin in an e-mail to Save Jersey.

So the ‘Young Gun’ designation is an undeniable boost for Lonegan in terms of his candidacy’s credibility, but it refers only to having hit certain benchmarks (chief among them fundraising), serving as an incentive program for possible Republican congressional race nominees across the country. It isn’t an official NRCC declaration for one GOP primary candidate over another. They’re staying neutral at least until June.

This NJ-05 debate over the veracity of endorsements is, of course, just another twist in a primary battle for the right to challenge freshman Democrat Josh Gottheimer which, in the early stages, hasn’t been overtly ideological (the classic RINO vs. conservative lion scrap over issues) but undeniably very, very personal. And we’re only in December.

Should we have expected anything less? Or more, depending on your allegiances? Probably not. The stakes are huge and the combatants aren’t known for holding back. 

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