Assemblywoman Aura Dunn (R-Mendham), who had been publicly considering a campaign for Congress for the last month, announced today that she will not run for the 11th congressional district against Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-Montclair) this year.
“I will not be a candidate for Congress in 2022,” Dunn said in a statement. “The enormity of support and encouragement for me to enter the race for CD-11 has been incredibly humbling and inspiring. I weighed this decision heavily, as I do with every action I take as a public servant and the assemblywoman for District 25.”
Dunn added that while she would have relished the opportunity to “speak truth to power” in Washington D.C., she felt her voice was also important in the state legislature.
“I am needed in Trenton and will continue to fight against government overreach, our affordability crisis, the inequities in our education system, and the constant attacks on parental rights,” she said.
Dunn, 50, a former top aide to Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-Harding), began considering a campaign at the urging of several GOP leaders concerned that the field lacked a clear challenger to take on Sherrill; her entry would have been a game changer in a Republican primary where none of the six candidates running have yet caught fire.
The daughter of a U.S. Marine who was a Purple Heart recipient and Vietnam veteran, Dunn was raised by a single mother who worked as the only woman construction apprentice on a job site. Later, she became a lobbyist for Sesame Street and Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood and worked for U.S. Senator Arlen Specter, then a Republican from Pennsylvania.
In 2018, Dunn waged an unsuccessful bid for Morris County freeholder, and she lost once again in a 2019 Republican primary for State Assembly. But when Assemblyman Anthony M. Bucco (R-Boonton) was elevated to the State Senate to succeed his late father later that year, Dunn won the special convention to replace him, and went on to win re-election in both 2020 and 2021.
Her 2020 victory, which happened alongside President Joe Biden’s nine-point victory in her district, was notable for giving her the most votes – 64,469 – of any New Jersey Assembly candidate since the modern district system began in 1973.
Without Dunn in the race, the frontrunners for the nomination are likely Morris County Commissioner Tayfun Selen, Morris County Republican State Committeeman Larry Casha, and former assistant Passaic County Prosecutor Paul DeGroot.
DeGroot won the Republican organization line in Passaic County and raised $112,115 in the 4th quarter, more than anyone else in the field.
Selen, a former Chatham mayor, won a countywide election in 2020 with 52% of the vote after Biden became the first Democratic presidential candidate since Lyndon Johnson to carry Morris County. He also has the backing of many local elected officials in the district, but he was badly outraised in the 4th quarter.
A former Kinnelon Council President, Casha entered the race in October and raised $94,675. He briefly challenged Sherrill in 2020, but dropped out of the race after Republican leaders cleared the field for attorney Rosemary Becchi, who switched from the 7th district to the 11th.
Also in the race are former Ridgefield Park councilman Robert Kovic, who has the endorsement of State Sen. Ed Durr (R-Swedesboro) but has not caught on otherwise; attorney Larry Friscia; and U.S. Army veteran Toby Anderson.
Three other candidates formerly running in the 11th switched to different districts: 2021 gubernatorial candidate Phil Rizzo to the 7th district, former Republican National Committee staffer Tom Toomey to the 6th, and realtor Patrick Quinn to the 9th. A fourth, screenwriter Hillery Brotschol, ended her campaign entirely.
One final potentially strong candidate, Morris County Surrogate Heather Darling, opted against a run.
Whoever ultimately wins the Republican primary will have to face Sherrill in a district that was redrawn to be significantly more Democratic; by gaining dark-blue towns like Millburn and Maplewood, Biden’s margin in the district was boosted to around 17 points, well up from seven currently.
Sherrill was first elected in 2018, when Frelinghuysen chose to retire and Sherrill flipped his seat by a dominant 15-point margin against Assemblyman Jay Webber (R-Morris Plains). She won her second term against Becchi in 2020 by a reduced seven-point margin.
For her second re-election campaign this year, Sherrill raised $2,956,409 in 2021 and is sitting on a gargantuan $5 million warchest.