Ocean County GOP chairman Barbara Lanuto has endorsed Kate Gibbs for the Republican nomination for Congress in New Jersey’s 3rd district.
Lanuto’s endorsement follows a vote to support Gibbs by the Ocean County GOP screening committee and comes in advance of next month’s convention to award the organization line.
“Kate Gibbs is exactly the kind of person and leader we need in Washington,” said Lanuto, who served as acting county chair for a brief period last year. “She will work with Pres. Trump to accomplish great things for the American people, and is far the best prepared candidate to represent Burlington and Ocean Counties and to defeat Andy Kim this November.”
The race to find a challenger for Kim, one of the state’s vulnerable Democratic congressmen, has become collateral damage after Rep. Jeff Van Drew’s party switch late last year.
Gibbs, a labor leader and former Burlington County freeholder director, had been the front runner to take on Kim. At the same time, it appeared that Richter was emerging as the leading candidate to run against Van Drew.
But Van Drew’s change of parties and the endorsement of President Donald Trump closed Richter’s path to winning the 2nd district nomination. He dropped out of the race against Van Drew and switched to the 3rd district race against Kim.
For a short time, it looked as though Republicans were about to shut down Gibbs.
Former Gov. Chris Christie was working the phones for Richter. Several sources have told the New Jersey Globe that Christie had enlisted former Ocean GOP chairman George Gilmore to help corral Republican support.
Richter hired former White House political director Bill Stepien as his strategist, Larry Weitzner’s Jamestown Associates as his media consultant, and former Ocean County GOP executive director Tom Bonfonti as campaign manager.
When Trump came to Wildwood for a rally to support Van Drew, Richter was given a speaking role and a photo op with the president.
Gibbs fought back, making her case that Republicans shouldn’t block 34-year-old women from running for office just to accommodate a self-financer moving to the district to run.
The race was upended again when the Asbury Park Press revealed that Gibbs had been arrested for shoplifting and marijuana possession when she was in her early twenties.
In 2014, Gibbs was charged with possession of alcohol in a beach in Sea Bright.
Gibbs accepted responsibility for her actions.
“As a young woman, I made some poor choices, trusted the wrong people, experimented with pot, and did some immature things. It’s embarrassing and I’m not proud of it, but I won’t run from it either. I own this,” she said in a statement. “The mistakes I made then, helped me become who I am today: An independent, responsible, successful young woman who is running for Congress because we need more real, genuine people representing us in Washington.”
The day after the newspaper story, which was not available online to non-newspaper subscribers, Gibbs won a solid victory at the Ocean GOP screening committee.
The vote re-established her place as the front runner.
It also showed that Gilmore’s influence has waned since being convicted on federal tax-related charges. Gibbs would not have won without the tacit support of the new county chairman, Frank Holman, and she would not have received the backing of Lanuto or Freeholder Virginia Haines without it.
The ‘Snooki ad’
Richter is fighting back, with a tough and undeniably effective video ad that compares Gibbs’ legal issues to the Jersey Shore’s Snooki Polizzi.
“Our Jersey shore values. Family. Community. Hard Work. Kate Gibbs? She’s more that Jersey Shore. Gibbs parties hard and she’s got the criminal record to prove it. Arrested multiple times. Public drinking. Caught with drugs. Even convicted of theft. Banned from Kohl’s for life. Sued nine times for not paying her bills. Jersey Shore was an embarrassment to our community. In Congress, Kate Gibbs would be too.”
The ad was produced by Jamestown, one of the top Republican ad makers in the nation.
That caused Haines, who is also the Republican National Committeewoman from New Jersey, and Republican National Committeeman Bill Palatucci to issue a statement saying that the Richter campaign is in “desperation mode” after Gibb – already on the organization line in Burlington – won the Ocean screening committee vote.
“Mr. Richter’s attempt to depict a genuine Jersey Girl like Kate Gibbs as somehow similar to the New Yorkers who regularly insulted all New Jerseyans in the so-called ‘Jersey Shore” TV show is shameful and compels us to speak out as party leaders,” the two said. “Mr. Richter’s personal attacks on Kate only serves to embarrass himself, hurt the Republican Party and diminish our efforts to defeat Andy Kim this November.”
The ad uses footage filmed in Ocean City and Avalon in the 2nd district.