Republican State Chairman Doug Steinhardt declined to endorse a candidate in the third congressional district Tuesday.
“That’s still an evolving process,” he said. “I think there’s still a lot of discussions that remain to be had.”
Former Hill International CEO David Richter dropped his bid against Rep. Jeff Van Drew (R-Dennis) in favor of a run against Rep. Andy Kim (D-Marlton) on Monday, putting him opposite former Burlington County Freeholder Director Kate Gibbs.
Richter, once the frontrunner for the GOP nod in the third district, found himself the odd man out after Van Drew defected to the Republican party last month.
Van Drew, a longtime Democrat, lost support from the party’s rank and file over his opposition to impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump, who has since endorsed the congressman and is holding a rally for him in Wildwood Tuesday evening.
The district’s Republican leaders have mostly aligned behind Van Drew, who now faces a single primary opponent, former Trump aide Robert Patterson.
Steinhardt said his position as leader of the New Jersey GOP prevented him from backing a candidate in a contested primary.
“I think it’s way too soon,” he said. “David made his move yesterday, and we as a state party — I’m not in a position as the chairman to endorse anybody in a primary anyway, so that process has to sort itself out. But like anything else, I’m sure that it will, and we’re looking forward to a strong showing in 2020.”
Gibbs has the part line in her home county, but the portions of Ocean County that fall in the district will likely decide the outcome of the primary.
Bill Stepien, Trump’s former political director and one of the president’s top advisors, has signed onto Richter’s campaign as a consultant.
Stepien also managed both of former Gov. Chris Christie’s gubernatorial campaigns.
The former governor played a role in the deal that moved Richter’s bid out of the third district.
Stepien’s involvement appears to signal Trump’s approval of Richter’s district swap, though it remains to be seen whether Trump will back Richter in the way he did Van Drew.
It’s possible that Richter will appear on stage or in the president’s remarks Tuesday, but Steinhardt wasn’t willing to take any guesses about Trump’s view on the matter.
“You gotta ask him,” he said.