Bob Hugin’s late entry into the race for New Jersey Republican State Chairman has created a suddenly tight and chaotic contest in Tuesday’s special election to replace Doug Steinhardt for the next six months.
The millionaire pharmaceutical executive and 2018 U.S. Senate candidate faces Michael Lavery, a former Hackettstown mayor who served as state chairman for five months in 2017.
Lavery is a close ally of Steinhardt. Hugin today won the endorsement of Jack Ciattarelli, who is Steinhardt’s main rival for the 2021 Republican gubernatorial nomination.
Senate Minority Leader Thomas Kean, Jr, and Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick are also for Hugin. Both had been included in an email last week as backing Lavery.
A New Jersey Globe tally of state committee members on Monday afternoon has Lavery leading Hugin, 24 to 15, after more than 50 phone calls and emails with individuals who have votes in tomorrow’s election or have direct knowledge as the count.
Hugin’s chances will hinge on the obvious: his ability to convince state committee members that they should switch their allegiance from Lavery to him.
The magic number to win in 21, assuming all 41 state committee members attend tomorrow’s meeting. The state GOP has one vacancy; Passaic County has not yet filled the seat of John F. Capo, a Totowa councilman and Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers Locals 2, 4 & 5 officer.
Hugin is pushing back against claims by some Republican leaders that they had already committed to Lavery, saying that the promise was made at a time when there was only one candidate in the race.
Union County State Committeewoman Dorothy Berger, who lives in Hugin’s hometown of Summit, had committed to Lavery but is now considered in the Hugin camp.
Lavery is getting two votes each from Camden, Cape May, Cumberland, Essex, Mercer, Middlesex, Salem, Sussex and Warren counties. He also has single votes from: Ben Focarino of Bergen; Steve Solomon in Burlington; Christina Ramirez of Morris; former Toms River Mayor Thomas Kelaher of Ocean; Susan Enderly of Passaic, and Bernards Township Committeewoman Janice Fields of Somerset.
Hugin has two votes each from Atlantic, Gloucester, Hunterdon, and Monmouth. The NJ Globe tally also has former Moorestown Mayor Victoria Napolitano of Burlington, Joshua Einstein-Sotomayor of Hudson, former Kinnelon Councilman Larry Casha of Morris, Freeholder Virginia Haines of Ocean, Al Gaburo of Somerset, and former Westfield Councilman James Forest of Union ready to vote for Hugin.
Two other state committee votes are less clear: Darlene Shotmeyer of Bergen and Irene Kim Asbury of Hudson.
If Hugin secures votes from Shotmeyer and Kim Asbury, it would bring his total to 17.
That means Hugin will still need to flip four more Lavery backers in order to overcome his late start.
Republican National Committeeman William Palatucci has been whipping votes for Hugin.