Lower Township mayor Erik Simonsen and Ocean City councilman Antwan McClellan have emerged as the leading candidates for the Republican State Assembly nomination in the 1st district.
The two Cape May officials are expected to win the endorsement of the Cumberland County Republicans this week in their bid to challenge incumbents Bruce Land (D-Vineland) and Matthew Milam (D-Vineland).
Downe Mayor Bob Campbell, who ran for the Assembly in 2017, withdrew from the race last week.
Another candidate, Darwin Cooper, did not file a letter of intent to challenge Simonsen and McClellan at the Cumberland convention.
Simonsen, 50, is the athletic director of Lower Cape May Regional High School. He is a former special education teacher and singer/songwriter/musician who served as a councilman before running unopposed for mayor in 2016.
The 43-year-old McClellan served as a school board member before winning his first race for city council in 2012. He is the personnel director for the Cape May County Sheriff’s office.
If he wins, McClellan would become the first black assemblyman to represent Cape May and Cumberland counties.
Simonsen and McClellan will likely run on a ticket with State Senate candidate Michael Testa, Jr., the Cumberland County GOP chairman.
Testa is the favorite to win the Cumberland line for State Senate against former Assemblyman Samuel Fiocchi (R-Vineland). Last year, Testa defeated Fiocchi in a race for county chairman.
Fiocchi has pledged to run in the primary without organization support.
The Republican candidate will take on State Sen. Bob Andrzejczak (D-Middle) in November for the remaining 26 months of the Senate term left vacant in January when Jeff Van Drew (D-Dennis) resigned to take his seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.
The district includes all of Cape May, part of Cumberland, and three towns in Atlantic.
Donald Trump won 55% in the 1st district in 2016. Republicans have a slight advantage in voter registration – 44,004 to 40,159, with 62,695 unaffiliated voters. Republican U.S. Senate candidate Bob Hugin carried Cape May County with 61% and is ahead in Cumberland by 73 votes.
Republicans view the 1st district as competitive, but have been unable to break Van Drew’s lock, or his ability to help his running mates across the finish line. But without Van Drew on the ballot, the GOP would likely make a big push to pick up a Senate seat in a 2019 special.