In a colossal and complex upset, incumbent Assemblyman Wayne DeAngelo (D-Hamilton) finished in third place at today’s Mercer County Democratic convention, falling behind two other candidates for party support for two Assembly seats in the 14th legislative district.
Thanks to a unique Mercer Democratic rule, however, DeAngelo can still appear in the Democratic column alongside the two “victors,” Rick Carabelli and Tennille McCoy. DeAngelo received 106 county committee votes, just barely behind Carabelli’s 120 and McCoy’s 111, meaning that all three candidates passed the threshold for appearing in the party column on the June primary ballot.
The result puts all eyes on the Middlesex Democratic convention, which is set for this coming Wednesday. Middlesex Democrats have no equivalent threshold rule, so only two victors will emerge from the convention that covers around 40% of 14th district voters, and the winners may become the clear favorites in the primary overall.
After the results were announced today, DeAngelo said that he was undecided about whether to continue his campaign – and blamed supporters of Assemblyman Dan Benson (D-Hamilton), who simultaneously won party support for county executive today, for his loss.
“Today, [Benson’s supporters] didn’t support me,” DeAngelo said. “With that being said, we still have Middlesex County to go through. I’m not sure what my next steps are going to be. If I decide to run, I’ll let everyone know what my plans are going forward.”
Carabelli and McCoy said they were thrilled with their victories, though they – like everyone else at the convention – were rather perplexed about what happens now. Both had seemingly anticipated that they would be competing against each other for the lone open seat, and neither aligned themselves with either of the other candidates for now.
“We had three fine candidates,” Carabelli said. “It was a tight race. I think the committee decided the right thing – we’re all close, we all got in the column. That’s the way the Democrats work.”
“I’m really excited, as a woman, to be running on this ticket,” McCoy said, emphasizing her three top issues of education, economic development, and the environment. “Born and raised in Hamilton Township – it’s a really great opportunity for us to be able to get out there.”
DeAngelo has been a member of the Assembly for 16 years, first winning in an close 2007 race that flipped a seat from Republicans. During his tenure in the legislature, he has been a top ally of labor – he’s the president of the Mercer/Burlington Counties Building Trades Council – as well as one of the body’s most moderate Democrats on certain issues like abortion.
Neither McCoy nor Carabelli, meanwhile, has held elected office before. McCoy, a former assistant commissioner of the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development, lost races for the Hamilton Township Council in 2011 and 2013, and ran briefly for Mercer County Commissioner in 2021 but dropped out before the primary. Carabelli, meanwhile, is a political neophyte who has been Franklin Township’s municipal tax assessor since 2009.
Prior to the convention, both DeAngelo and 14th district State Sen. Linda Greenstein (D-Plainsboro) remained neutral in the presumptive race between Carabelli and McCoy; Greenstein reiterated her neutrality after the results were announced. (In February, DeAngelo had been encouraged by South Jersey Democrats to run against Greenstein in this year’s Senate primary, but he declined.)
Whoever does ultimately win the Assembly nomination may have a competitive general election to deal with, too. The 14th district is on Republican radars this year as a potential reach seat, although given that it voted for Gov. Phil Murphy by nine points in 2021, the victors of what has become a highly chaotic Democratic primary will be clear general election favorites.
When the Mercer convention disbanded this afternoon, the widespread feeling was one of entering uncharted waters. What comes next, at the Middlesex convention and beyond, is anyone’s guess.