Ocean County Republicans have set a filing deadline of January 16 to screen for a spot on the coveted organization line, GOP County Chairman Frank Holman has announced.
So far, this will be the first face-off for actual votes between the two leading Republican gubernatorial candidates, Jack Ciattarelli and Doug Steinhardt.
Holman has set a screening committee meeting for Saturday, February 6 and a convention on March 6.
Ocean County has the largest block of GOP primary voters in the state.
Republicans will also screen candidates for State Senate and Assembly in the 9th, 10th, 12th and 30th districts, and candidates for a rare open seat on the Ocean County Board of Commissioners.
Gerry Little announced last month that he would not seek re-election to a sixth term. Berkeley Township Councilman John Bacchione has already entered the race to succeed him, and Little Egg Harbor Mayor Barbara Jo Crea is also mulling a county commissioner bid.
Another incumbent, Gary Quinn, is expected to seek re-election.
The screening committee is likely to trigger a battle between two factions of the Ocean County Republican Party: one led by Holman and the other by his predecessor, George Gilmore.
Bacchione is allied with Gilmore.
“We are working out the details of voting locations and medium, but we are unable to gather in a large crowd as we have in the past. We believe we are on the right course,” Holman said in a joint statement with County Commissioner Jack Kelly. “In the interest of safety, let’s reduce our physical interaction, but provide for an exciting and fair nominating process.”
The Ocean GOP said their screening committee will be in-person, but with an option for members to access via Zoom if they prefer. Only candidates who screen are eligible to compete at the convention, Holman said.
The screening process will allow other Republican candidates for governor to compete: Joseph Rudy Rullo, a Little Egg Harbor resident; and Hirsh Singh, who won the Ocean GOP convention for U.S. Senate last year.
It also sets a deadline of 11 days for former Franklin Mayor Brian D. Levine to decide if he will seek party support in Ocean in a bid for governor. Levine, who lost his bid for re-election to the freeholder board last year, announced on January 1 that he is exploring a run for governor.
In the 12th district, State Sen. Samuel Thompson (R-Old Bridge) is facing a primary challenge from Old Bridge Councilman Mark Razzoli.
Holman said that incumbents who face no opposition will not be required to participate in the screening process.