Republican challengers in the 16th legislative district attacked Assembly incumbents Roy Freiman (D-Hillsborough) and Andrew Zwicker (D-South Brunswick) over an appearance with Gov. Phil Murphy at a Flemington vaccination clinic, charging the event was political stunt.
“Governor Murphy is making a habit of doing events in LD-16 because of how vulnerable the Democrat legislative candidates are this year,” said JD Bryden, campaign manager for Mike Pappas, Vinny Panico, and Joe Lukac.
Pappas, a former congressman, is challenging Zwicker for retiring State Sen. Kip Bateman’s (R-Branchburg) seat in the upper chamber. Panico and Lukac are running for Assembly against Freiman and former Montgomery Mayor Sadaf Jaffer.
Democrats saw the attack as an act of desperation.
“My comment is that they’re grasping at straws and chasing windmills and that Pappas ought to start working on his next song to the tune of Don Quixote,” said Somerset County Democratic Chairwoman Peg Schaffer.
Pappas in 1998 sang a song praising former Solicitor General Kenneth Starr, who headed the Whitewater investigation into members of President Bill Clinton’s administration. The song was credited with sinking his re-election bid.
The Republicans said Bateman, a member of a storied political dynasty who serves in one of just three legislative districts with split representation, had proved Republicans could win in the 16th, adding GOP gubernatorial frontrunner Jack Ciattarelli’s position on the ballot would lend them an additional boost.
Ciattarelli represented the district as an Assemblyman before his 2017 campaign for governor.
“These press stops are a transparent attempt to get positive media coverage to try and cover up their failed leadership in the legislature that has resulted in one third of all small businesses going under and a massive swelling of tax hikes on the middle-class,” Bryden said.
Schaffer said that read was wrong. The assemblymen, she said, were just doing their jobs.
“Frankly, they’re doing their job. This has been the Republican tack that everything’s a photo op. Well, this is part of their district and they are not vulnerable,” she said. “They are very, very effective legislators and frankly, I think the Republicans have very little to offer other than critiquing their opponents.”