Former Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean Jr. (R-Westfield) narrowly defeated favorite-son Assemblyman Erik Peterson (R-Franklin) at the Hunterdon County Republican Convention tonight, scoring his first organization line as he seeks the GOP nomination to take on Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-Ringoes) in the 7th congressional district.
Kean prevailed over Peterson by 7 votes, 67 to 60, on the second ballot – a 53%-47% victory.
On the first ballot, Kean’s advantage was far greater, leading Peterson 79 votes to 54 (46%-32%).
Political newcomer John Henry Isemann came in third with a respectable 35 votes – the 27-year-old businessman came within 19 votes of Peterson – or 21%, and salon owner Robert Trugman got two votes.
Phil Rizzo, a controversial former pastor and real estate developer who ran for governor in 2021, did not compete for the nomination, nor did U.S. Navy veteran Sterling Irwin Schwab or licensed public works contractor Kevin Dorlon.
The results are a setback for Peterson, who launched his campaign last month and must now run off-the-line against a party organization that has supported his candidacies for Hunterdon County freeholder and State Assembly in the past. Peterson is one of the most conservative members of the legislature, most recently helping to lead a rebellion among Assembly Republicans against the statehouse’s vaccine and masking policies.
Hunterdon GOP Chairman Gabe Plumer announced tonight that all of the candidates pledged during the screening committee process not to run a line against the organization in the primary.
Kean entered the convention with the endorsements of Hunterdon County Clerk Mary Melfi, Sheriff Fred Brown, and Commissioners Susan Soloway, John Lanza, Matthew Holt, Shaun Van Doren, and Zach Rich.
Last week, Kean received the unanimous endorsement of the Warren County Republican Executive Committee, which means he is the favorite to win the county organizational line there as well.
Malinowski defeated Kean by one point in 2020, 50.6-49.4%. In that race, Kean carried Hunterdon County by 8,628 votes, 56%-44%.