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Morris County Commissioner Tom Mastrangelo. (Photo: Morris County Board of Commissioners).

Online poll testing Republican primary in 26th legislative district currently circulating

Mastrangelo says poll isn’t coming from him

By Joey Fox, November 30 2022 12:36 pm

With primary season for New Jersey’s 2023 legislative elections fast approaching, an online poll is being circulated testing Republican candidates in the 26th legislative district, where Morris County Commissioner Tom Mastrangelo is considering challenging State Sen. Joe Pennacchio (R-Montville).

Based on the phrasing of certain questions, it seems possible that the poll (conducted by the SurveyMonkey-affiliated firm Research.net) originates from Mastrangelo himself; Mastrangelo initially did not return requests for comment for this story, but later told the New Jersey Globe the poll did not come from him. Pennacchio also denied any involvement in the poll.

Pennacchio and Assemblymen Jay Webber (R-Morris Plains) and Brian Bergen (R-Denville) – the latter of whom currently represents the 25th district but was redistricted into the 26th – have all said they plan on running for re-election.

They’ve moved early to shore up support in the district, garnering support from the vast majority of the Morris County Republican Committee. Passaic Republican Chair Peter Murphy and Morris Republican Chair Laura Marie Ali have both endorsed Pennacchio; Murphy has also endorsed Webber and Bergen.

But that hasn’t stopped speculation that Mastrangelo, who lost county party support for his commission seat this year but won off-the-line anyways, could join forces with other disgruntled Morris County Republicans and challenge the incumbent slate. Former Assemblywoman BettyLou DeCroce (R-Parsippany) has already launched a comeback bid after losing renomination two years ago, and other Republicans are also rumored as potential candidates.

The poll currently being circulated first tests a direct head-to-head between Pennacchio (misspelled throughout the poll as Pennachio) and Mastrangelo, followed by a variety of messaging about the two candidates.

Pennacchio, poll-takers are informed, is a “career politician who … has not delivered results for the people of his district” and who supported Gov. Phil Murphy’s budget, “which included tax increases and free legal aid for illegal immigrants.” (Of the five state budgets approved under the Murphy administration, Pennacchio voted for one, the 2019 budget.) Mastrangelo, on the other hand, is a “leader in the fight against the ‘woke’ agenda,” though the poll also tells voters that the commissioner has had ethics complaints filed against him.

Following that mix of messaging, poll-takers are asked once again who they’d support in a Pennacchio-v-Mastrangelo primary.

Also included in the poll is a question about the race for the Assembly; Mastrangelo previously ran for Assembly in 2021, coming in fourth place in the Republican primary.

Poll-takers are asked to choose among Bergen, Webber, Mastrangelo, DeCroce, and former 11th congressional district nominee Paul DeGroot, who lost in a landslide to Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-Montclair) earlier this month, for two seats in the Assembly. The poll also tests the favorability ratings of Parsippany Mayor James Barberio, but does not list him as a potential candidate.

Though he got swamped by Sherrill districtwide, DeGroot narrowly carried the parts of the 26th legislative district that are also in the 11th congressional district, 49.8%-49.3%. The 26th district overall, which also extends into the 5th and 9th congressional districts, voted for Republican congressional candidates collectively by 1.6 percentage points and is not expected to be competitive in 2023.

DeGroot, a Montville resident, could be a formidable off-the-line candidate for the legislature if he does choose to run. He nearly carried Morris County in the June Republican congressional primary despite Morris County Commissioner Tayfun Selen having the county line, and his general election campaign against Sherrill means he’s likely got sky-high name recognition among local Republicans.

This story was updated at 4:08 p.m. on December 1 with comment from Commissioner Mastrangelo denying his involvement in the poll.

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