The retirement of veteran State Sen. Christopher “Kip” Bateman leaves Republicans searching for a Senate candidate in a district where Democrats are positioned to flip a seat if they can settle on a nominee without conflict.
Joe Biden carried the 16th district by 27,165 votes, 61%-38%, over Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential election. Bateman won re-election by just 574 votes in 2017 against Democrat Laurie Poppe.
Republicans have no heir apparent for the Senate seat Bateman first won in 2007 – and a seat his father, former Senate President, and gubernatorial candidate Raymond H. Bateman, held from 1968 to 1978.
Former Somerset County Freeholder Brian Gallagher appears to be the top choice of multiple Republican leaders, but it’s not immediately clear if he wants to run. Earlier this year, Gallagher, a former Somerville mayor, ruled out a bid for one of the two 16th district Assembly seats.
The 16th is likely to have its former Republican assemblyman on the ballot. Gubernatorial candidate Jack Ciattarelli represented the district in the State Assembly from 2012 to 2018.
Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker (D-South Brunswick) was planning to challenge Bateman, but his has not yet cleared the Democratic field.
His running mate, Assemblyman Roy Freiman (D-Hillsborough), remains a potential Senate candidate. So is Poppe.
Some Democrats advocating for a different Senate candidate have suggested that Senate President Steve Sweeney is resistant to Zwicker out of concern that the Middlesex County Senate delegation will increase in size.
Somerset Republicans have a filing deadline of February 3 and a screening committee meeting set for February 17, but some have suggested a certain flexibility to allow for an extended recruitment period.
Hunterdon Republicans have a February 1 filing deadline, but that is also viewed as fungible following Bateman’s retirement announcement.