Former Montgomery Mayor Christine Madrid and former Somerset County freeholder Mark Caliguire won the GOP organization lines for State Assembly in Mercer and Middlesex counties, creating just a little more chaos in the race to oust incumbents Andrew Zwicker (D-South Brunswick) and Roy Freiman (D-Hillsborough) in the politically competitive 16th district.
This race might not be decided until the June 4 primary election.
South Brunswick in Middlesex County has about 6% of the Republican primary votes, with Princeton in Mercer County at just 3%.
Caliguire, who lost a 2017 Assembly bid to Freiman by 3,673 votes and then lost re-election to the Board of Freeholders in 2018, is the clear front-runner for one of the two slots on the GOP ticket.
“This Election is about Phil Murphy,” Caliguire said on Friday evening at the Mercer GOP convention.
Hunterdon County voted this week to give their line to Caliguire and 24-year-old tree farmer/plumber Forest Locandro. Hunterdon makes up 43% of the Republican primary vote.
Somerset County Republicans hold their nominating convention on March 25 had have three candidates in the race: Caliguire, also a former Montgomery mayor; Madrid, who lost her bid for re-election to the township committee last year by 1,262 votes; and Ed Zimmerman, a former mayor of Rocky Hill.
Somerset contributes 48% of the Republican primary votes in the 16th district.
So far, Caliguire is running on a line with Locandro in Hunterdon and on a line with Madrid in Mercer and Middlesex.
Absent a deal between the two county chairmen, Patrick Torpey in Hunterdon and Al Gaburo in Somerset, to somehow swing the Somerset line to Locandro, it looks like there will be a Republican primary.
There could also be a contested primary for sheriff, where Frank Provenzano is retiring after eighteen years.
If North Plainfield police chief Bill Parenti wins the convention and retired sheriff’s officer Tim Pino – a significant candidate – runs anyway, Locandro could find a home on the Pino line in Somerset.
There would be some synergy for Locandro, the son of former Delaware Township mayor Roger Locandro, to run with Pino. Pino now works as an aide to State Sen. Michael Doherty (R-Oxford), who represents parts of Hunterdon and Somerset counties in the legislature. Doherty has endorsed Pino.
That could also create a primary challenge for Pat Walsh, 73, who is seeking her fifth term as a Somerset County freeholder.
Democrats won two Somerset freeholder seats last year and need to defeat Walsh to take control.
The district has 14,599 more Democrats than Republicans – up considerably from the 5,275 Democratic edge when the 16th was drawn in 2011. It is one of two in the State that elected a Republican senator and two Democratic assemblymen in 2017.