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Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker, left, and Somerset County Democratic Chair Peg Schaffer. New Jersey Globe Photos.

Murphy won’t take sides in Zwicker, Schaffer conflict

Titular head of N.J. Democrats says he likes them both

By David Wildstein, February 12 2021 2:51 pm

Gov. Phil Murphy today side-stepped a question about a Democratic county chair telling Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker (D-South Brunswick) that he needs to move to her county to get the organization line for Senate.

POLITICO reported that Peg Schaffer offered Zwicker the Somerset organization line on the condition that he move from Middlesex to Somerset.

Murphy, the titular head of the state Democratic party, declined to say if a candidate should be forced to move out of their home so that a county chair can exercise senatorial courtesy over a gubernatorial nomination.

“I’m a big Andrew Zwicker fan.  I’m frankly a big Peg Schaffer fan as well,” Murphy said.  “I’m a big believer in each of them.”

Zwicker has announced his bid for the open 16th district State Senate seat.  Four-term State Sen. Christopher Bateman (R-Branchburg) is not seeking re-election.

While Somerset hasn’t sent a Democrat to the New Jersey Senate since 1902, the 16th may represent the best chance for Democrats to flip a seat in the upper house.  The district has 20,732 more Democrats than Republicans, and Joe Biden carried the 16th by 28,165 votes, 61%-38%, against part-time Somerset resident Donald Trump last year.

Laurie Poppe, a Hillsborough attorney who came within 574 votes of ousting Bateman in 2017, is seeking the Democratic nomination for Senate – or for an open Assembly seat if the Senate nod goes to Zwicker or Assemblyman Roy Freiman (D-Hillsborough).

Somerset County GOP Chairman Tim Howes isn’t surprised that Murphy isn’t taking sides.

“Clearly Governor Murphy doesn’t have a preference, because either one will support his agenda,” Howes said.  “I want a senator who will serve as an opponent of Governor Murphy’s agenda.”

Republicans have not yet sorted through their candidate selection process to replace Bateman.

Former Rep. Dick Zimmer (R-Delaware Township), who served Congress from 1991 to 1997, and in the State Senate for four years before that, is the only announced candidate.

Another former congressman, Michael Pappas (R-Branchburg), is considering a Senate run.  So is former Montgomery Mayor Ted Maciag.

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