Rosemarie Becchi began to seriously consider switching districts and running against Mikie Sherrill instead of Tom Malinowski sometime on Friday and made a final decision on Sunday morning, according to fourteen sources familiar with all or part of the marathon negotiations.
Her 48-hour campaign was complicated.
After a conversation with advisors – some of whom were increasingly of the view that there was no real path to overtake Tom Kean, Jr. in the 7th district Republican primary – Becchi began to explore her options in the next-door 11th.
That included discussions with her political consultant, former New Jersey GOP executive director Evan Kozlow, Bridgewater mayor Matt Moench, and Somerset County lawyer Tim Howes.
It wasn’t the first time the Sherrill race had been dangled in front of Becchi, but it was only in the last two days that it became a real option.
Becchi, sources say, wanted to avoid the perception that she was being forced out of the race against Kean. In fact, she was being actively recruited by some Republicans to run against Sherrill in a race that the GOP appeared to write off.
On Friday morning, former Kinnelon councilman Larry Casha, who until today had been the most likely candidate to take on Sherrill, had breakfast with the four Republican county chairs in the 11th: Laura Marie Ali of Morris, Al Barlas of Essex, Peter Murphy of Passaic, and Jerry Scanlan of Sussex.
All four indicated their readiness to back Casha.
Later that day, after Moench spoke with Ali, she called Barlas back to get a read on his willingness to support Becchi, an Essex County resident, instead.
Barlas called Murphy and Jerry Scanlan in Sussex, to see if they would join him in backing Becchi.
It was Barlas who brought in Murphy and Scanlan, convincing them that they needed a candidate with a substantial fundraising network in order to run a competitive race against Sherrill.
Murphy told Barlas, sources say, that Becchi would put Republicans in a position to win the House seat.
“Make it happen,” said Murphy, according to sources. “Do you want to gotta do.”
Scanlan said if Becchi had Barlas and Murphy, he would be there too.
Barlas called Ali back on Friday evening.
“Tell her that we want her,” a source said he told Ali.
But there was one caveat: Becchi needed to make a quick decision.
That wasn’t a tough sell, since Becchi was scheduled to face voters for the first time next week at the Union County GOP convention. Kean was the overwhelming favorite to win that vote, and it would have put a loss in Becchi’s column.
Becchi had an ask as well – a commitment of help from the National Republican Congressional Committee. She wanted them to release their choke-hold on Washington money for her race, and wanted to be added to the NRCC Young Guns list.
The call on that was made by Justin Richards, the NRCC political director. Richards is a Jersey guy who started his career as Kean’s driver on his 2006 U.S. Senate primary. Kozlow managed that campaign.
Barlas found himself as the quarterback, coordinating phone calls with party leader, Becchi, Howes and Moench all weekend.
Other Republicans, including State Sen. Kristin Corrado (R-Totowa) and BettyLou DeCroce, (R-Parsippany), said they would support Becchi. DeCroce did it from a working vacation in the Dominican Republic.
Some prominent Republicans were left completely out of the process, including Republican National Committeeman Bill Palatucci and former Gov. Chris Christie, an 11th district resident who was on a boys only trip to the Bahamas this weekend with Democratic powerbroker George Norcross.
Becchi made her final decision on Sunday morning.
Now Becchi is on the verge of having organization lines in Essex and Passaic and the backing of the chair in Sussex, which has no line.
In lineless Morris, Becchi has the support of both factions of a deeply divided party: Ali and Rob Zwigard, a Becchi backer from the start who came within four votes of winning the county chairmanship in 2018.
One provision of the deal, most of the Republicans involved said, was that Casha needed to be told before the story leaked.
Casha, the sources said, is held in high regard by local Republicans who wanted to treat him respectfully – even as they were prepared to dump him.
Ali called Casha late Sunday morning to deliver the news. Barlas’ call to Casha came shortly afterwards.
Becchi spoke to him about an hour or so later. The two are meeting on Monday morning.
Casha is expected to be the dutiful soldier and step aside.