Phil Rizzo, a former pastor and gubernatorial candidate running for Congress in the 7th district, received the endorsement today of Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-NC), a freshman congressman regarded as one of the most conservative legislators in Washington.
“Phil Rizzo is a fighter,” Cawthorn wrote on Twitter. “He’s not going to bow to the left or the Establishment RINOS in Congress… Far too many fake Republicans say they’ll run to change Washington and then fail on their promises. Phil is the real deal, and I need him by my side in the D.C. swamp.”
Rizzo is a significant underdog in the Republican primary against Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean Jr. (R-Westfield), who nearly defeated Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-Ringoes) in 2020. Kean has the backing of House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and other national Republicans, and last month was awarded the county line in Hunterdon County; Rizzo didn’t even compete for the county party’s endorsement.
Rizzo has also lagged significantly behind in fundraising, raising just $57,683 in the fourth quarter compared to the hundreds of thousands raised by both Kean and Malinowski.
But Cawthorn’s endorsement signals that the hard-right wing of the national party, represented by figures like Cawthorn and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), is intrigued by the possibility of Rizzo joining them in Congress. Elsewhere in the country, including in a hotly contested Texas primary happening today, Cawthorn has thrown his support to conservative candidates he believes may join him in bucking Republican congressional leadership.
Last summer, Cawthorn met with school board president Nick D’Agostino about D’Agostino’s run for Congress in the 5th district, but did not issue a formal endorsement; D’Agostino ended up dropping out of the race in January in favor of a bid for Sussex County commissioner.
Rizzo began the cycle by challenging Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-Montclair), but after redistricting made Sherrill’s district bluer and Malinowski’s redder, Rizzo switched districts. His lone prior run for office, in the 2021 Republican gubernatorial primary, ended in a second-place finish to Jack Ciattarelli, who went on to lose to incumbent Gov. Phil Murphy.