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Republican U.S. Senate candidate Rik Mehta. (Photo: courtesy of Facebook)

Republican Senate race too close to call

Mehta holds narrow lead after Singh scores blowout victory in Ocean County

By Nikita Biryukov, July 08 2020 12:40 am

The race for the Republican nod to take on U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D-Newark) is too close to call.

Rik Mehta currently leads Hirsh Singh 38% to 37%, with Singh kept competitive by a staggering 29,012-vote lead in Ocean County.

Tricia Flanagan has 17% of the vote, while Natalie Rivera has 5%, and Gene Anagnos has 3%.

Those counts don’t include Passaic and Cumberland Counties, though Passaic Republicans outnumber their Cumberland counterparts three-to-one. Mehta has the line in Passaic.

The results may shift in the coming days as election officials finish counting mail-in ballots they received by Tuesday. It’s not clear how many vote-by-mail ballots postmarked by 8 p.m. Tuesday will arrive before next Tuesday, nor is it clear how many provisional ballots were cast in the race. It’s also uncertain how many purged vote-by-mail ballots will be cured before election results are certified.

In its last weeks, the contest was largely defined by a Singh mailer that asked voters who had already voted for Mehta to request and return a duplicate ballot.

The mailer drew condemnations from Republican chairs in counties where Mehta won the line, as he did in most of the state. It also forced State Attorney General Gurbir Grewal to send the candidate a cease and desist letter that warned his mailer had violated state and federal law.

Those laws bar advising voters to cast multiple ballots.

Though Mehta won organizational support in most of the state, Singh pulled a handful of upset victories, winning lines in Atlantic County, Cumberland County, Cape May County and Ocean County, the staunchest Republican stronghold in the state.

The race for a seat Democrats won every cycle since 1972 was sidelined for months amid the COVID-19 crisis, though counties continued to award candidates their support. As the pandemic wore on, Singh went on the offensive, claiming Mehta was secretly a Democrat who opposed President Donald Trump.

Mehta responded in kind, claiming Singh had accomplished nothing in life and was unqualified for the seat. Singh mounted unsuccessful bids for governor in 2017 and House in 2018.

In the former race, he received a $950,000 loan from his father. He promised he would self-fund his second-district House bid but was stymied by federal law, which limits individual donors’ giving to $2,800 per cycle per campaign.

Despite those limits, Singh managed to out-raise his chief opponent, bringing in $583,905.89 to Mehta’s $393,640.46, though Singh had raised $176,732.26 in the three quarters before Mehta entered the race.

Neither candidate saved much of their funds. Mehta had just $48,214.35 on hand on June 17, while Singh had $34,924.04.

At that time, Booker had just under $2.9 million in his war chest.

On top of his organizational support, Mehta received the backing of prominent Republicans like former Gov. Chris Christie and Republican National Committeeman Bill Palatucci.

National Committeewoman Ginny Haines backed Singh.

Former prosecutor Stuart Meissner at one point sought the seat, though he dropped his bid in February after Mehta scored early consecutive wins at Republican county conventions.

Vote tallies do not include uncounted mail-in ballots received by Tuesday, late-arriving vote-by-mail ballots postmarked by 8 p.m. Tuesday, provisional ballots that won’t be counted for at least a week and mail-in ballots that were disqualified but may be cured at a later date.

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