Home>Campaigns>No clear favorite among Cuozzo, Sauickie, Martin in 12th district special election

Plumsted Township Committeeman Dominick Cuozzo. (Photo: Domenick Cuozzo).

No clear favorite among Cuozzo, Sauickie, Martin in 12th district special election

Gilmore is backing Cuozzo; Brenda Dancer supports Sauickie

By Joey Fox and David Wildstein, August 09 2022 9:53 am

Three Republicans filed to run in Thursday’s special election convention for the 12th district State Assembly seat of Ronald Dancer (R-Plumsted), an 11-term lawmaker who died last month, setting up an early test of newly elected Ocean County GOP Chairman George Gilmore’s strength in an intra-party contest that is too close to call.

Gilmore is backing Dominick Cuozzo, a Plumsted township committeeman and the pastor of the Bible Baptist Church.

Cuozzo faces two candidates from Jackson, a large Ocean County municipality that is divided into multiple factions: Council Vice President Alex Sauickie III and Scott Martin, a former three-term councilman. Brenda Dancer, the late assemblyman’s widow, is supporting Sauickie. 

In rules agreed upon by the four Republican county chairs, there will be just one ballot with no runoff in the machine vote, meaning that the ultimate victor could win with as little as 34% of the vote.

The 12th district is one of the state’s most convoluted, stretching from Old Bridge to New Hanover; Middlesex, Monmouth, and Ocean Counties each represent around 30% of the district’s population, with the remainder in Burlington County. Thursday’s convention will be held in Freehold, which is outside the district but represents a relatively central location for the district’s disparate towns.

Every county chairman in the district has agreed to let Dancer’s seat remain an Ocean seat, respecting a deal that was cut between Gilmore and the predecessors of the other three county chairmen in 2011.

Turnout for a special election convention on a Thursday night in August is difficult to predict.  There is no proxy voting and no mechanism for absentee or early voting, leaving Republican county committee members who are on vacation without an ability to vote.

Jackson is likely to be split, and there is a pocket of Republican county committee members in Old Bridge who are expected to support Cuozzo based on some long-term relationships with Gilmore. It’s not clear where the rest of Old Bridge is headed; they had a meeting yesterday to discuss the race.

Asked yesterday where he stands on the race, 12th district State Sen. Sam Thompson (R-Old Bridge) simply said, “I’ll deal with it on Thursday.”

Burlington has just a handful of votes, and the race could be decided by the Monmouth section of the district. 

Cuozzo backed Phil Rizzo in the 2021 Republican gubernatorial primary and Mike Crispi in his challenge to Rep. Christopher Smith (R-Manchester) in the 2022 primary. He also supported Gilmore in his comeback bid last month.

The three other Republican county chairs in the 12th – Shaun Golden in Monmouth, Robert Bengivenga in Middlesex, and Sean Earlen in Burlington – are not planning to publicly endorse anyone, the New Jersey Globe has learned.

Thursday’s convention will technically be picking two candidates at once, one to immediately replace Dancer and another for a November special election for the remainder of his term, though there’s no reason to think the same person won’t be chosen for both. Democrats will also select a nominee for the special election sometime soon, but they face long odds in the solidly Republican 12th district.

Spread the news: