Joe Howarth and Ryan Peters aren’t speaking.
The two assemblymen are former running mates that still sit next to one another on the Assembly floor, but they’ve been pitted into a primary contest increasingly marked by acrimony.
“No reason to, really,” Howarth said when asked if he had spoken to Peters since the two fell out earlier this year. “We’re on different spectrums. He’s a non-Trump supporter. I’m a Trump supporter, so there’s issues there.”
Howarth was dropped from the party line earlier this year over a belief held by Burlington County’s Republican leadership that he attempted to defect from the Republican party along with State Sen. Dawn Addiego when the latter switched her party alignment earlier this year.
Howarth denies having attempted to switch, but sources on both sides of the aisle have told the New Jersey Globe that Howarth sought to become a Democrat.
They say those efforts were thwarted by local Democrats in Burlington, who said they would not have backed Howarth for the Democratic nod.
“He won’t talk to me,” Peters said. “We’ve known each other before, when he was a liberal Republican. So now that he’s taken his turn to be a MAGA, Trump — we’ve known each other too long for him to fake it to me, so I think it’s just hard for him to do it. He just avoids talking to me.”
County organizations in the eighth legislative district are backing Peters and former Burlington Sheriff Jean Stanfield.
Howarth is mounting an off-the-line bid as a Trump Republican to secure a primary win.
“If you don’t stand for something, you don’t stand for nothing,” Howarth said. “It’s what you gotta do. Too many people are trying to pick the middle of the road to stay in office.”
But, Peters isn’t buying that explanation, pointing to Howarth’s legislative record and what appears to be an about face on abortion issues.
Though he was largely inactive on the issue over his tenure in the legislature, over the last month Howarth has introduced a constitutional amendment barring the state government from funding abortion providers like Planned Parenthood and a bill requiring doctors to provide medical care to a fetus if an attempted abortion comes out alive.
“He’s never stood up for right to life stuff in his three years, but in the past two sessions he has,” Peters said. “I think this is all new to him, and he’s trying to work through that and figure out how to be a Trump Republican … if you look at any part of his voting record, his being a Trump Republican is a joke.”
The New Jersey Right PAC endorsed Howarth earlier this month, in part citing the constitutional amendment, which likely won’t ever see a vote.
At the very least, Howarth responded to Peters’ doubting his loyalty to Trump in a Trumpian way.
“He’s just fake news,” he said.