The fight for the Republican nomination for a congressional seat held by the GOP for the last 24 years has gone way off the rails. Eight Republicans are now seeking the nomination, and five of them have at least one county organization line.
Holding this seat has been an uphill fight since Frank LoBiondo announced he would not seek re-election in New Jersey’s 2nd district last November. Democrats seem likely to run Jeff Van Drew, a popular right-of-center state Senator who wins his Republican-leaning legislative district by 2-1 margins. Donald Trump carried Van Drew’s district by ten points, and the congressional district by four points.
While Van Drew got in the race quickly, Republicans found themselves without a succession plan when the 71-year-old LoBiondo retired. It took the GOP two months before retired FBI agent Robert Turkavage, a Kasich for President supporter who had run as an independent candidate for U.S. Senate in 2012, got in the race.
Sources say that Republican National Committeeman Bill Palatucci, a supporter of U.S. Senate candidate Bob Hugin, helped broker a deal to get software engineer Hirsh Singh to drop out of the Senate race and run for Congress. Singh had self-financed his $1 million gubernatorial campaign in 2017 and had promised to put $2 million into his race this year. Palatucci promised that the Republican establishment would get behind Singh.
The problem for Palatucci, who may face his own fight to get re-elected in 2020, is that the lines were not his to give away.
Ocean County GOP Chairman George Gilmore, who sources say was involved in the negotiations to clear the field for Hugin, delivered his county—which represented 10% of the total Republican primary vote—to Singh. So did Burlington, which cast just 199 votes in the last congressional primary. That’s all Singh has so far.
Cape May, which has 21% of the district’s primary voters, went for former Assemblyman Sam Fiocchi. But Fiocchi, who was a Cumberland County Freeholder before going to the legislature, lost his home county by a single vote last night to Turkavage. Cumberland is 11% of the district.
The splintering of the Republican organizations has left no clear favorite.
Gloucester County (13%) went for Brian Fitzherbert, a 29-year-old systems engineer for a defense contractor. Salem County (9%) has put Somers Point Councilman James Toto on their organization line.
With 33% of the Republican primary voters, Atlantic County is the largest county in the LoBiondo district. Their convention is on Saturday and will be a critical contest for Singh. Sources say that Singh is the early favorite to win, but some GOP leaders acknowledge privately that local Republicans have not exactly taken a liking to him.
The wild card in Atlantic is the presence of conservative activist Seth Grossman, a former Atlantic County Freeholder and Atlantic City Councilman, in the race. The Steve Lonegan ally who challenged Gov. Chris Christie in the 2013 GOP primary could benefit from a crowded field.
Grossman has not won any organization lines so far. Neither have Mark McGovern, a Trump campaign activist, or attorney John Zarych.
Van Drew has faced some resistance from Democrats over his 100% rating from the National Rifle Association and his opposition to same sex marriage, but the anti-Van Drew vote has been divided between three challengers that appears to leave no path for any of them to win. Will Cunningham, Sean Thom and Tanzie Youngblood combined to win 43% at the Atlantic County Democratic convention last weekend.