There’s no denying that Bill Spadea didn’t have a great primary day.
Spadea – the popular morning radio host who is expected to ultimately announce his candidacy for the 2025 GOP gubernatorial election – invested significant political capital in contentious intra-party races including LD3, LD4, LD24 and LD26. It was a gamble, and only his LD3 bet (on the “Ed the Trucker” ticket) paid off. More criticially, Spadea’s alliance with the ever-controversial George Gilmore and their joint interventions around the state made enemies of potential allies and, in some cases, pushed individuals who may’ve otherwise been open to his pitch into the anti-Spadea camp.
“How many campaigns do you have to lose before you run for ‘Campaign Losing Expert’ and finally win?” Assemblyman Brian Bergen (R-25), one of the Assembly’s most outspoken and in-your-face conservative members, ribbed Spadea on Twitter in the wake of the June 6th results.
Where does all of this leave Spadea 2025?
It’s still far out, but we can say this much: the odds have increased that Spadea will need to find a way to win with few (if any) county lines. County lines performed fairly well in 2023, so unless an ongoing court challenge ends the peculiar Garden State tradition once and for all, Spadea may find himself running against established local leaders (like Bergen) in places like Morris County where he might’ve had a fair shot at winning the county party endorsement with a different spring 2023 strategy.
But winning without lines is doable, Save Jerseyans, and Spadea is arguably well-situated to do it.
The classic example is 2001 when Jersey City Mayor Bret Schundler defeat Bob Franks in the gubernatorial primary. Schundler went into June with only a single line (Hudson). Schundler didn’t have a morning radio program, but he was a well-known entity among base Republicans for having received attention as the GOP mayor of a “blue” city.
In 2005, Doug Forrester won an eight-man race powered by having carried Ocean County (where another candidate, Bob Schroeder, had the line). He did, however, lose Union County to Bret Schundler despite having the line there. Schundler carried Passaic, too, where Paul DiGaetano had the line.
Steve Lonegan didn’t have any county party endorsements in 2009, but he did manage to win three counties (Salem, Sussex, and Warren) where there weren’t “lines” as we conceive of them.
Spadea’s path will rely heavily on (#1) counties where the lines are weak and the conventions are traditionally less easily controlled by the party leadership (notably Bergen and Middlesex), (#2) counties where there aren’t lines (see 2009 above), (#3) carrying Ocean County (and recent events call into question Gilmore’s ability to deliver there, especially with Toms River less inside his camp than ever before), and (#4) overperforming in NJ 101.5’s core listening area in “Central” Jersey. Spadea’s name recognition may mean he can compete with fewer lines than an ordinary Ciattarelli challenger would need in his or her pocket to succeed.
Easy? No. Doable? Yes, with the right message and the correct campaign mechanics. Spadea and his team continue to bet that they have both in place. Count him out at your own peril.