Montgomery GOP Municipal Chair Rosy Thakkar has dropped her bid for State Assembly in the potentially competitive 16th district, sending Republicans back into recruitment mode before their March 14 nominating convention.
Thakkar was set to run on a slate with former Rep. Mike Pappas (R-Branchburg) for State Senate and Clinton Councilman Ross Traphagen for Assembly on organization lines in Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex and Somerset counties.
“Rosy decided it wasn’t the right time for her,” said Somerset County GOP Chairman Tim Howes, who said she cited personal reasons and her desire to focus on rebuilding the Montgomery Republican, which has swung Democratic over the last decade.
Republicans had been enthusiastic about Thakkar, who was seeking to become the first Sikh to serve in the New Jersey Legislature.
Legislative redistricting made the 16th slightly more Republican. The new map dropped Somerville, a Democratic bastion, and added more Republican terrain in Hunterdon County.
Freshman State Sen. Andrew Zwicker (D-South Brunswick) and three-term Assemblyman Roy Freiman (D-Hillsborough) are seeing re-election. The other Democratic incumbent, Assemblywoman Sadaf Jaffer (D-Montgomery), unexpectedly announced her retirement after just one term in January.
The likely Democratic candidate for the open seat is Mitchelle Drulis, a Hunterdon County small business owner who served as chief of staff to Assembly Labor Committee Chairman Joseph Egan (D-New Brunswick) and spent four years as district director to Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-Ringoes)
If the GOP is expected to make significant gains in the legislature during Gov. Phil Murphy’s mid-term election, they must pick up seats in the politically competitive 16th.
Murphy carried the old 16th by six percentage points against Republican Jack Ciattarelli, who had been the assemblyman from the district from 2012 to 2018. Joe Biden outpaced Donald Trump in the old district by 22 percentage points.
In the newly drawn district, Murphy led Ciattarelli by five points, and Biden won it by 21 points.
The 16th district, through its Somerset County core, was solidly Republican for more than a century until redistricting in 2011 removed Republican strongholds like Bridgewater and replaced them with Princeton and South Brunswick, both Democratic strongholds. The GOP held on for two more elections until Zwicker unseated Republican Assemblywoman Donna Simon (R-Readington) by just 78 votes out of more than 65,000 cast in 2015.
In 2017, after Ciattarelli gave up his seat to run for governor, Freiman flipped the seat from red to blue. Bateman held on, albeit narrowly, defeating Democrat Laurie Poppe by just 574 votes.
Zwicker faces a rematch with Pappas, who served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1997 to 1999. Two years ago, Zwicker defeated Pappas by 5,205 votes, 53%-47%, as the only Democrat to flip a Republican seat that year.