It’s been a tough five months for Republicans in the 39th district, where the death of 12-term State Sen. Gerald Cardinale in February resulted in two extraordinarily close special election conventions and a fierce GOP primary for State Assembly.
But there was a signal of peace on Thursday when State Sen. Holly Schepisi (R-River Vale), Assemblyman Bob Auth (R-Old Tappan) and DeAnne DeFuccio (R-Upper Saddle River) announced that they would run a joint general election campaign.
Schepisi was prepared to give up her Assembly seat to challenge Cardinale in the Republican primary, but when the 86-year-old conservative lion died, she faced Auth at a March special election convention. Schepisi beat Auth by 8 votes.
A few weeks later, in a contest Schepisi’s Assembly seat, DeFuccio won by 7 votes against Saddle River Councilman John Azzariti. Azzariti had Schepisi’s backing, while Auth ran the DeFuccio campaign.
In the June primary, Schepisi endorsed Azzariti and former Saddle River GOP Municipal Chairman Jon Kurpis against Auth and DeFuccio. The incumbents ran on the organization line in Bergen County with Schepisi, but Azzariti and Kurpis ran with the new senator on the Passaic line.
Auth and DeFuccio won by wide margins.
But now the events following Cardinale’s death appear to have set aside, with Schepisi praising her two running mates.
“I have worked side-by-side with Assemblyman Auth for several years and with Assemblywoman DeFuccio for several months now as we work to bring the interests of all our 39th District communities to Trenton,” said Schepisi. “I have seen firsthand how hard both Bob and DeAnne work and their commitment to doing what is right; I am proud to call them my teammates in the legislature and in this November’s election.”
In turn, Auth praised Schepisi.
“Senator Schepisi and I have spent years fighting together to bring fiscal sanity to state government to help working families and small businesses,” he said. “Assemblywoman DeFuccio has immediately joined us in that fight. I look forward to putting our team’s record before the voters and know that, once again, we will earn their support.”
Schepisi faces Democrat Ruth Dugan, a first-time candidate whose husband represented Jersey City and Bayonne in the State Senate in the 1970s. DeFuccio’s grandfather, William F. Kelly, served in the State Senate with James P. Dugan from 1972 to 1974.
The Democratic Assembly candidates are Melinda Iannuzzi and Karlito Almeda.
Republicans have held all three legislative seats in the 39th district since 1981, when Cardinale, then a freshman assemblyman, ousted one-term Democratic State Sen. Frank X. Herbert.
The 39th has become more politically competitive – there are 2,104 more Democrats than Republicans – and Joe Biden carried the 39th by 6,280 votes, 52%-47%, against Donald Trump last year. In 2017, Republican Kim Guadagno carried the 39th by 2,341 votes, 52%-48%, against Phil Murphy in the gubernatorial race.