Home>Highlight>Henry Kuhl, Hunterdon GOP chairman for 37 years, dies at 91

Former Hunterdon County Republican Chairman Henry Kuhl. (Photo: Hunterdon County Republicans).

Henry Kuhl, Hunterdon GOP chairman for 37 years, dies at 91

Fixture in N.J. politics backed Ronald Reagan for president in 1976

By David Wildstein, January 30 2022 4:07 pm

Henry Kuhl, a legendary Hunterdon County Republican leader for parts of six decades and an influential figure in state GOP politics, died on January 29.  He was 91.

“The Kuhl family and the Lance family have known each other for at least a century.  Henry Kuhl was a source of counsel and wisdom to me over many years,” said former Rep. Leonard Lance (R-Clinton Township), whose father, Wesley Lance, had served as a longtime state senator.  “He loved his God, his family, his country, his state and the place we call home, Hunterdon County.  I shall miss him deeply.”
Kuhl came from a political family — his grandfather served as a Republican councilman from Flemington when Woodrow Wilson was governor — and ran a family businesses that manufactured egg processing and poultry equipment.  Kuhl International Corporation, which was founded by Paul Kuhl in 1909, developed the first commercial egg-washing machine.The Rider University graduate had become active in Raritan Township GOP politics and was president of the local Republican Club.  He later served as the Republican municipal chairman.
At age 39, Kuhl was first elected county chairman in 1970, after then-Assemblyman Walter “Moose” Foran declined to seek a tenth term in the party post.

He was elected delegate to the 1972 Republican National Convention pledged to President Richard M. Nixon.  Kuhl was elected delegate a total of twelve times, the last in 2020 when he was pledged to President Donald Trump.
But one week after the 1972 GOP primary, Kuhl lost re-election by 18 votes, 61-43, to Andrew Tirpok.  Among other things, they two had disagreed over the selection of a new county prosecutor; Kuhl had wanted J. Dale Seip, the mayor of Frenchtown. Tirpok eventually backed down on his preference for Edmund Bernhardt and Gov. William Cahill picked Seip.  (Seip never became prosecutor; Cahill lost the GOP primary in 1973 and did not push the nomination.)

In 1976, Kuhl backed former California Gov. Ronald Reagan for the Republican presidential nomination against incumbent Gerald R. Ford.  He lost a bid for delegate to Tirpok, a Ford supporter, by a vote of 3,230 to 1,597.  Those resulted ended Kuhl’s hope of ousting Tirpok in the June 1976 county chairman election.
When Tirpok gave up the chairmanship to seek the GOP State Assembly nomination in 1977 — Foran was running for the Senate seat left vacant when Democrat Anne Martindell resigned to become U.S. Ambassador to New Zealand — Kuhl was interested in a return to the top party post.  But without the votes, he became vice chair and Kyle Keiderling became county chairman. 
In 1978, Kuhl supported former first assistant Warren County Prosecutor Jim Courter for the Republican nomination for Congress in a primary against former State Sen. William Schluter (R-Pennington).  Courter won the primary narrowly and went on to unseat Rep. Helen S. Meyner (D-Phillipsburg) in the general election.

Keiderling decided not to run again for county chairman in 1979.  Kuhl decided to seek the post and won it unanimously after two other potential candidates – Delaware Township Mayor Floyd Evans, Jr. and Clinton attorney Raymond Drake – decided not to run.

Kuhl was an early supporter of Reagan for president in 1980 and was a delegate to the GOP convention in Detroit that year.

He backed Lawrence “Pat” Kramer, a former Paterson mayor and state Community Affairs Commissioner, for the GOP nomination or governor in 1981.  With the elimination of organization lines in gubernatorial primaries that year, former Assembly Speaker Thomas Kean (R-Livingston) won the nomination and carried Hunterdon by 466 votes against State Sen. James Wallwork (R-Shot Hills); Kramer finished third, 323 votes behind Wallwork.

When U.S. Senator Harrison Williams, facing expulsion after his conviction in the Abscam scandal, resigned in 1982, Kuhl wanted Kean to appoint Courter, who had co-chaired the Kean campaign.

From time to time, Kuhl faced challenges to his leadership, including rival factions in GOP primaries for county office, and to his party post.  Schluter, who returned to the State Senate in 1991 after Richard Zimmer (R-Delaware) was elected to Congress, became critic.  In the 1990s, he accused Kuhl of campaign finance violations.

In 1998, Kuhl won re-election by just 20 votes against Hunterdon County Freeholder Frank Fuzo, a former Lambertville mayor.  One year later, Kuhl did not object to Fuzo seeking re-election to his freeholder post.

When he retired in 2014, Kuhl had served as county chairman from 37 years, 35 of them consecutively.  On his watch, Hunterdon County has elected only Republicans to countywide office since Democrat Benjamin Kirkland lost re-election in 1982.
Kuhl also served on the Hunterdon County Board of Taxation and the Hunterdon County Planning Board.  The decision of the Republican majority on the Board of Freeholders not to reappoint Kuhl to his Planning Board seat in 1979 set of a backlash that resulted in his return as county chairman.

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