The Republican primary for State Assembly in the 26th legislative district was upended over the weekend after five-term incumbent BettyLou DeCroce (R-Parsippany) lost the support of her home county Republican organization.
Christian Barranco, a member of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 102, defeated DeCroce by nine votes, 87-78, at the first-ever Morris County Republican convention on Friday night. Jay Webber, who is seeking his eighth term in the legislature, was the top vote-getter with 117 votes.
On Saturday morning, Passaic County Republicans denied their organization line to Webber, endorsing DeCroce and Barranco. The West Milford GOP, the only Passaic municipality in the 26th, gave 20 votes to DeCroce, 14 to Barranco and 6 to Webber.
Here are the answers to some questions the New Jersey Globe has fielded from readers over the last few days.
1. How did DeCroce lose the line? While there were no town-by-town results, Barranco appears to have been boosted by his hometown of Jefferson, a contingent of county committee in the deeply and historically fractured Parsippany — where DeCroce lives – and a group of county committee in Montville. DeCroce also opposed the creation of an organization line when the party voted earlier this year and some Republicans say this will cost her some votes.
2. Isn’t Webber’s loss in Passaic just as big a problem? No, it’s not even close. Morris makes up about 78% of the total primary vote in the 26th district, while Passaic is about 12%.
3. Who has the line in Essex? That’s up to Al Barlas, the Republican county chairman and he hasn’t decided yet. Essex has four towns in the 26th – Fairfield, West Caldwell, North Caldwell and Verona – and makes up approximately 10% of the GOP primary vote.
4. Do Republican always vote the line in Morris County primaries? That’s a trick question. This is the first year Morris Republicans have a line – until 2021, Morris had an open primary. There’s no data to predict how GOP primary voters will react since they’ve never seen a line before.
5. Can DeCroce win off the line? The reality is that if any dumped incumbent can prevail without the organization line, it’s DeCroce. She enters the primary with a dominant Republican brand: her late husband, Alex, won the 26th district seat 13 times before his death in 2012. On top of that, he served two terms as a Morris County freeholder and was a former Morris County GOP chairman. His widow has won four Republican primaries.
6. Does this affect a progressive lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of organization lines in federal court? It might. If DeCroce loses Morris County in the primary, it will bolster claims that an organization line really does pose an inherent disadvantage. But if DeCroce wins, you can be sure that will be cited by the other side.
7. Could Webber lose? Probably not. He has the line in Morris and there’s an important data point: in 2017, when two incumbent Morris freeholders challenged the incumbents in the Republican Assembly primary, Webber ran 1,335 votes ahead of DeCroce.
8. Where will DeCroce be on the Morris County ballot? This could be ballot Siberia. The first draw will be between the candidates for governor; Webber and Barranco will be on the Ciattarelli line. If DeCroce, an early supporter of Ciattarelli for governor, doesn’t bracket with Rev. Phil Rizzo or Hirsh Singh, she could be in column 4. That could get worse if another Assembly candidate emerges, and it could force DeCroce to recruit a county commissioner candidate just to avoid an even worse ballot position.
9. Will there be a war between two labor unions? It sure looks that way. Barranco has the backing of Pat Della Cava, the business manager of the Republican-leaning IBEW Local 102, while DeCroce earned the loyalty of the politically powerful International Union of Operating Engineers Local 825 when she voted to support an increase to the gas tax in 2016. Their business manager, Greg Lalevee, has a reputation for having the backs of legislators who were with him on key votes.
10. Is Christian Barranco a Nazi? He told the New Jersey Globe earlier this month that he was “not a Nazi,” but defended his use of Nazi Germany’s swastika flag in two Facebook posts. According to Barranco, he posted a comparison to the National Socialist German Workers and the two major political parties in the United States to show that Democrats are more like Nazis than the GOP. “I thought it was fitting for all of those who think Republicans are Nazis,” he said.
11. Can Democrats win the general election? Nope. The 26th district hasn’t elected a Democrat to the legislator in 48 years. Donald Trump won it by 3,298 votes, 51%-48% in 2020, and by 11,229 votes, 53%-43%, in 2016. There are 11,695 more Republicans than Democrats in the 26th.