Warren may be the third-smallest county in New Jersey, but it has generated an outsized number of statewide candidates.
The latest in Doug Steinhardt, a former mayor of Lopatcong who is seeking the Republican nomination for governor.
The last governor from Warren County was Robert B. Meyner, a Democrat from Phillipsburg, who served from 1954 to 1962. Others, like Wayne Dumont, Jim Courter, Donald Albanese and Chuck Haytaian, have sought statewide office and lost.
Meyner narrowly captured the Democratic nomination for governor in 1953 and won an upset victory in the general election. He served two terms.
As a 33-year-old lawyer, Meyner made his first bid for public office in 1941 when he challenged incumbent State Sen. Harry Runyan (D-Belvidere) in the Demcoratic primary. Until the U.S. Supreme Court’s One-Man, One-Vote decision in the early 1960s, the New Jersey Senate had 21 members – one from each county.
Meyner campaign as an ally of the new Democratic Governor, Charles Edison, and hammered Runyan on his vote against Edison’s railroad tax compromise. He came within 52 votes of ousting the incumbent in the primary.
After enlisting in the U.S. Navy during World War II, Meyner ran for Congress against five-term Rep. J. Parnell Thomas (R-Allendale) in 1946. The district now represented by Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-Wyckoff), included parts of Bergen and Passaic, and all of Hunterdon, Sussex and Warren.
Meyner got clobbered, losing by 36,008 votes, 69%-31%. But the future governor made a surprisingly strong showing in Warren, holding Thomas to a 678-vote plurality, 52%-48%.
After Runyan decided to retire in 1947, Meyner again sought the Warren County State Senate seat. Republicans nominated Wayne Dumont, 33, a Phillipsburg lawyer with a booming voice who had pitched in the St. Louis Browns minor league baseball organization.
The contest between Meyner and Dumont featured two young lawyer and war veterans: Meyner from the Navy and Dumont from the Army. Meyner won by about 700 votes, 53%-47%.
Republicans had a 14-7 majority in the State Senate, allowing the young freshman senator to become the new minority leader in 1950. At that point, he was already being mentioned as a potential Democratic gubernatorial candidate in 1953, when Republican Gov. Alfred Driscoll was expected – but not required — to step down.
In 1951, Meyner faced a rematch with Dumont, who had spent the four-years since his last Senate bid going door-to-door.
The election went to a recount.
Dumont won by a razor-think margin of 46 votes, 50.1% to 49.9%.
Despite the loss of his Senate seat, Meyner forged ahead with a gubernatorial campaign two years later.
Besides Meyner, possible candidates included: Rep. Charles Howell (D-Trenton); Truman-appointed U.S. Attorney Grover Richman; state Supreme Court Justice William Wachenfeld of Essex County; former Assemblyman T. James Tumulty (D-Jersey City); John Marshall College of Law (now Seton Hall Law School) Dean Alexander Ornsby; Mercer County Freeholder Edward Thorne; Democratic National Committeeman Archibald Alexander, who had lost two U.S. Senate races; and former Rep. Elmer Wene (D-Vineland), a Cumberland County chicken farmer who had won 47% as the Democratic gubernatorial candidate against Driscoll in 1949 and 49% as his party’s U.S. Senate nominee in 1944.
At one point, Essex County Democratic Chairman William Egan advanced the name of another Warren County Democrat, anti-corruption activist and crime crusader Clendenin Ryan, a onetime Republican. Ryan was a client of Meyner’s law firm and bashed Meyner’s skills. That trial ballot didn’t go anywhere.
Democrats in those days typically called a meeting of county bosses to review lists of potential aspirants and find a consensus candidate, but that didn’t happen in 1953. After four nights of closed-door meetings in March, party leaders failed to clear the field for Richman.
Meyner won some considerable support, but not to avoid a primary with Wene.
The runway for the April 21 primary election was short and Wene carried 18 of 21 counties.
But with a nearly 30,000-vote plurality out of Hudson, Meyner was able to eke out a 1,585-vote primary win over Wene, 45.7% to 45.0%. He won 95% of the vote in Warren and beat Wene, 54%-37% in Camden. Ormsby won 7% of the vote, and with 2% going to Clifton attorney John Winberry, who had lost a race for Congress in a Passaic County district in 1952.
The winner of the Republican primary was Paul Troast, a construction executive who built the New Jersey Turnpike as its first commissioner, defeated publisher Malcolm Forbes by a 52%-39% margin.
He had been the favorite to win the general election against Meyner until The New York Times broke a story that Troast wrote a letter New York Gov. Thomas Dewey seeking clemency for Joseph F. Fay, the head of the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 825 who had been convicted of extortion.
The Fay Letter send the Troast campaign into a tailspin and he wound up losing by 153,642 votes, 53%-45%.
Meyner was re-elected in 1957 – he defeated Forbes with 54.5% of the vote – and unsuccessfully sough the Democratic presidential nomination in 1960.
In 1969, Meyner sought a political comeback. He won the Democratic nomination with 45% in a six-candidate field but received just 38% of the vote in the general election against Rep. William Cahill (R-Collingswood).
Cahill won every county but Warren. Jersey City Mayor and Hudson boss John V. Kenny, who had launched Meyner’s career in 1953, delivered Cahill a 15-point win as payback for Meyner’s feud with Hudson bosses during his eight years as governor.
The Wayne Dumont Era
Wayne Dumont began eyeing higher office early in his State Senate career. He became Senate Majority Leader in 1954 and Senate President in 1956.
With the hope of another campaign against Meyner, Dumont launched a bid for the Republican nomination for Governor in 1957.
Forbes, the magazine publisher and a Republican state senator from Somerset County, won the primary by 93,327 votes, 64%-36%. Dumont has the backing of State Sen. Frank “Hap” Farley, the Atlantic County GOP Boss, and won Atlantic, Cape May and Camden, as well as Mercer, Hunterdon, Sussex and Warren.
Dumont ran again in 1961, this time bucking the party pick of former U.S. Secretary of Labor James Mitchell. He finished third with 21% behind Mitchell (44%) and Senate Sen. Walter Jones of Bergen County (34%). He carried just Hunterdon, Sussex, Salem and Warren.
For Dumont, the third time was the charm.
The Warren County senator won the Republican nomination for governor by 12,911 votes in 1965 against Senate President Charles Sandman (R-Erma), 50.4% to 46.5%. Sandman beat him only in Cape May, Burlington, Ocean, Union and Passaic.
In the general election, Dumont supported the establishment of a state income tax and hammered The Demcoratic incumbent, Gov. Richard Hughes, defending Rutgers University’s refusal to fire pro-Marxist Professor Eugene Genovese.
Hughes was popular and coated to a 57%-41% win over Dumont, taking the race by 363,572 votes and bringing in Democratic majorities in both houses of the legislature with him.
Dumont had to give up his Senate seat in 1965. That was the year One-Man, One-Vote changed the Senate map to apportion Senate seats based on population. The Senate expanded from 21 to 29 members, and the newly drawn Tenth Senate District included Morris, Sussex and Warren counties and elected two senators.
Reapportionment after a series of legal challenges led to a new Fifteen District that elected one senator from Hunterdon, Sussex and Warren.
Dumont decided he wanted his Senate seat back and challenged freshman State Sen. Milton Woolfenden (R-Newton) in the Republican primary. Woolfenden accused Dumont of wanting back in the Senate as a springboard to a fourth run for governor in 1969.
He ousted the 42-year-old Woolfenden by 1,648 votes, 54%-46%, carrying Hunterdon with 63%, and Warren with 78%; Woolfenden won 69% in Sussex.
His last real race came in 1981 when four-term Assemblyman Donald Albanese (R-Belvidere) challenged him in the GOP primary.
The Senate primary bid came just after Albanese abandoned his own bid for the 1981 Republican gubernatorial nomination. Dumont won with 60% of the vote.
Dumont remained in the Senate until health issues forced his retirement in 1990. He died in 1992.
Albanese later moved to Pennsylvania and a bid for the state legislature there with just 22% in a Republican primary.
The days of Courter and Haytaian
After Meyner and Dumont, the next group of statewide candidates from Warren County were Jim Courter and Chuck Haytaian.
Courter, a former first assistant Warren prosecutor, ran for Congress in 1978. In a campaign managed by 26-year-old Roger Bodman, Courter won the Republican primary by 134 votes over the party’s 1976 nominee, former State Sen. Bill Schluter (R-Pennington).
In the general election, Courter unseated the two-term incumbent, Helen Stevenson Meyner (D-Phillipsburg) by 5,493 votes, 51.8% to 48.2%. Meyner was the former First Lady of New Jersey, the wife of Robert Meyner.
As the first New Jersey Republican to win back a congressional seat lost in the 1974 Watergate landslide, Courter became an instant GOP star.
He endorsed Tom Kean for governor in 1981 – Bodman also managed that campaign – and nearly ran for an open U.S. Senate seat in 1982. Indeed, Kean considered appointing Courter to the Senate after Harrison Williams resigned.
The was talk of Courter taking on U.S. Senator Frank Lautenberg in 1988, but the congressman had his sights on replacing Kean as governor instead.
The Allamuchy congressman won the seven-candidate 1989 Republican gubernatorial primary by a 29%-22% win over former Attorney general Cary Edwards, followed by Assembly Speaker Chuck Hardwick (22%), State Sen. Bill Gormley (17%) and State Sen. Gerald Cardinale (8%).
The winner of the general election was Democrat Jim Florio. Florio beat Courter by 541,384 votes, 61%-37%, helping Democrats take back control of the State Assembly. Courter won just Hunterdon, Morris, Sussex and Warren.
Haytaian, a Hackettstown dry cleaner, had served as a Warren County Freeholder before winning Albanese’s open Assembly seat in 1981. He became Assembly Majority Leader after the GOP took the Assembly in 1985, Minority Leader following loss of control in 1989, and Speaker when Republicans took back both houses of the legislature because of Florio’s $2.8 billion tax increase.
In 1994, Haytaian became a candidate for the United States Senate.
He defeated former State Sen. Brian Kennedy (R-Sea Girt) in the GOP primary by a 2-1 margin, and nearly Lautenberg, a two-term incumbent, in the Clinton mid-term election.
Lautenberg defeated Haytaian by 67,243 votes, 40%-47%.