Gregg Mele, the 2021 Libertarian Party nominee for governor, has withdrawn his candidacy for the Republican primary in the 6th congressional district after a judge found that an insufficient number of his petition signatures were valid. The challenge to Mele’s 232 signatures was brought by NJ Parental Rights State Director Victoria Jakelsky and the campaign of Rik Mehta, another Republican contender in the 6th district.
Administrative Law Judge Kim Belin presided over the two-and-a-half hour hearing, finding 45 signatures to be invalid before halting the proceedings because Mele had already been pushed below the 200-signature threshold; Jakelsky had challenged 78 signatures in total.
A notably large number of signatories were disqualified because they were Democrats; Mele personally attested that many were his friends and that they did not realize they were registered Democrats, but Belin did not find that excuse to be valid.
Given a choice between withdrawing his candidacy and being formally disqualified from the ballot, Mele chose the former. After accusing the Mehta campaign of “win[ning] the cheap way,” Mele initially said he planned running as an independent in the general election.
“It’s fine, I will run independent to give my supporters an actual patriot choice,” he wrote in the chat of the hearing’s Zoom meeting.
But Mele later walked back that promise, saying that he won’t continue his campaign this year and will instead consider endorsing another candidate in the race.
The frontrunner in the Republican primary for the 6th district, a strongly Democratic district currently held by Rep. Frank Pallone (D-Long Branch), is Monmouth County Commissioner Sue Kiley, who has the Republican line in both of the district’s counties. Mehta, the 2020 Republican nominee for U.S. Senate, is also running a serious campaign, while Mele and former Republican National Committee staffer Tom Toomey have made fewer waves.
This story was updated at 1:37 p.m. with more details about the number of signatures challenged. It was updated again at 9:26 a.m. on April 12 to reflect the fact that Mele does not intend on running as an independent.