Michael Lavery was elected New Jersey Republican State Chairman on Tuesday night, defeating Bob Hugin by a vote of 24 to 18 in the first clash between the two major candidates for the 2021 GOP gubernatorial nomination.
Lavery is a strong ally of Doug Steinhardt, whose resignation as GOP state chairman triggered the special election to lead the state Republican Party.
Hugin, the former chairman of Celgene and the 2018 U.S. Senate candidate, entered the race yesterday morning and was promptly endorsed by the other candidate seeking the chance to challenge Gov. Phil Murphy, former Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli.
The election of Lavery, by a six-vote margin that turned out to be a 57%-43% race, is a significant early organizational boost for Steinhardt.
The outcome also marks a repudiation of former Gov. Chris Christie and his top political lieutenant, Republican National Committeeman Bill Palatucci. Palatucci aggressively pushed state committee members to support Hugin over Lavery.
“Tonight, our State Committee heard two individuals share their vision about the future of the NJGOP and the opportunity we have to fix New Jersey in 2021,” Ciattarelli said in a statement after the vote. “I was proud to support Bob Hugin in this race given his proven leadership and commitment to winning elections.”
Ciattarelli’s statement also took a swing at Steinhardt, who ran the state GOP for the last three years, and signaled that he will not retain Lavery if he wins the gubernatorial nomination.
“Few have done as much for our party in recent years as Bob has. I thank Bob for his continued dedication to our party,” Ciattarelli said. “I congratulate interim-Chairman Lavery. I trust that he will now begin the difficult work of rebuilding our state party organization to win more seats all across New Jersey in 2021.”
Lavery, a former Hackettstown mayor who served a state chairman for five months in 2017, appeared to have a lock on the race until yesterday morning when Hugin, the former chairman of Celgene, entered the race.
“All of the people in New Jersey deserve a better life than Governor Murphy has given us,” Hugin.
Hugin committed to boost the state party’s warchest for next year’s election.
“I commit to you that I’ll raise at least $1 million for county and municipal races,” said Hugin, who spent $36 million in a challenge to U.S. Senator Bob Menendez two years ago.
Lavery promised to keep the state party neutral during the upcoming gubernatorial primary between Steinhardt and Ciattarelli.
“NJ GOP will provide nothing to either side,” Lavery said. “Whomever wins the primary in June, we have to all be friends again and beat Phil Murphy.”
Hugin was nominated by Ginny Haines, an Ocean County freeholder and a state committeeman, and was seconded by former Assemblyman Mary Pat Angelini, the state committeewoman from Monmouth County.
“I’ve been through many, many chairs,” Haines said. “I believe Bob Hugin will serve us well.”
Sussex County State Committeewoman Jill Space nominated Lavery, who received a second from Janice Fields, the state committeewoman from Somerset.
Michael Mulligan, a state committeeman from Salem County, objected to the electronic vote and sought to delay the election.
“What we’re going to be doing caused major problems in this country,” Mulligan said. “We are jumping the gun at the present time.”
Warren County Freeholder/State Committeewoman Jason Sarnoski said there was no reason to delay the meeting.
“This is the same process we’ve followed in the past. We’re not voting on Dominion machines,” he said. “We’re going to be virtual for the time being.”
The acting state chair, Lynda Pagliughi, said that the software being used for the vote was recommended by the Republican National Committee.
The results of the election, conducted by secret ballot, largely mirrored a New Jersey Globe tally over the last two days.
Lavery appears to have received two votes each from Bergen, Camden, Cape May, Cumberland, Essex, Mercer, Middlesex, Sussex and Warren counties. He also has single votes from: Steve Solomon in Burlington; Christina Ramirez of Morris; former Toms River Mayor Thomas Kelaher of Ocean; Susan Enderly of Passaic; Joan Melino of Salem; and Bernards Township Committeewoman Janice Fields of Somerset.
Hugin lined up two votes each from Atlantic, Gloucester, Hudson, Hunterdon, Monmouth and Union. Additionally, he is receiving votes from former Moorestown Mayor Victoria Napolitano of Burlington, former Kinnelon Councilman Larry Casha, Freeholder Virginia Haines of Ocean, Al Gaburo of Somerset, Matt Conlon of Passaic and Mulligan.
This story was updated at 7:56 PM.