Republican congressional candidate Jay Webber has settled on an all-in strategy of running his own line of candidates in Essex County, where the county GOP organization is backing Antony Ghee for the 11th district congressional seat. It’s not a unique strategy – candidates have been doing that for generations – and it’s not unwise. Without aligning himself with other candidates, he risks having his name get lost on the Essex County ballot. As an Assemblyman, Webber has represented four Essex County towns for the last seven years and thinks he can do well there even if Ghee is on the organization line.
But Webber’s decision to launch a warette against Essex County GOP Chairman Al Barlas comes with some potential consequences:
* If he wins the primary, Weber will need to unite the GOP against his well-funded general election opponent in a district that has suddenly become hugely competitive. If Essex Republicans hold a grudge, that could be deadly.
* If Ghee or someone else wins the primary and then loses the general in a Democratic year, Webber would be positioned to run again in a more climatically advantage 2020 cycle. But if he’s fighting with Essex Republicans, they could again deny him the line – maybe this time going with another Morris County Republican.
* Webber’s more immediate problem could be his 2019 campaign for re-election to the State Assembly, if Barlas decides to back one of the plethora of politically ambitious Morris County Republicans (or someone from Essex) and not give Webber the line. Assemblywoman Betty Lou DeCroce, who has endorsed Ghee at Barlas’ request, would be delighted to see Webber lose organizational support.
The organization candidate for county executive is North Caldwell Councilman John Chiaia, who represents one of the towns in Webber’s legislative district. Webber’s running mate, Montclair Republican Municipal Chairman Roland Straten, is from Tom Giblin’s district.
In 2017, Webber was the top vote-getter in a fiercely contested four-candidate Republican primary, receiving 8,574 votes. DeCroce won the second seat with 7,239 votes against Morris County Freeholder Hank Lyon (5,350) and Parsippany Councilman John Cesaro (4,856). In that race, Webber wasn’t the target; DeCroce was. Morris in lineless, but Webber ran with organization support in the other two counties that provided him with big margins.
The other issue for Webber is that Barlas has formed a seemingly impenetrable alliance with Peter Murphy, who controls the Passaic County line and is likely to be the next Republican County Chairman. Steve Lonegan, who is running for Congress in the neighboring 5th district, is running a line in Passaic that Webber could probably join if he wants to. He might have nothing to lose — if Webber loses the Essex line, he’ll lose it in Passaic too.
That doesn’t mean Webber can’t win a sixth term in the Assembly, if it comes to that – he’s been a reliable vote-getter in Morris County GOP primaries — but he would for sure face a tough fight in a district with a deep Republican bench.