Home>Highlight>Pennacchio, Kean don’t regret backing Morris GOP line

State Sen. Joe Pennacchio.

Pennacchio, Kean don’t regret backing Morris GOP line

Line likely a major factor in DeCroce’s primary loss

By Nikita Biryukov, June 15 2021 2:14 pm

GOP legislators who backed Morris County Republicans’ adoption of a party line haven’t soured on the practice after it facilitated an incumbent’s primary loss.

“I think it was very successful,” said Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean (R-Westfield), whose district includes portions of the Morris. “County committee are a very important part of the process and their role in the decision-making process was reinforced in the primary election.”

Last week, Assemblywoman BettyLou DeCroce (R-Parsippany) narrowly lost re-election to former Pompton Lakes Councilman Christian Barranco, who ran on the Morris County line with Assemblyman Jay Webber (R-Morris Plains).

Morris Republicans adopted the line to ward of a Democratic Party that’s seen its strength grow in the suburban county over the past four years.

Worrying the once solidly — and still largely — Republican county could become competitive, GOP leaders in Morris urged their County Committee Members to adopt a party line. The practice allows parties to afford chosen candidates a preferential position on the ballot.

Barranco ran 896 votes ahead of DeCroce in Morris County, while DeCroce led by 286 votes and 122 votes in Essex and Passaic Counties, respectively. She was the only Assembly candidate on the line in those counties.

A little under 78% of the district’s Republican primary vote came out of Morris County.

State Sen. Joe Pennacchio (R-Montville), a prominent backer of Morris County’s GOP line, said the results should assuage naysayers who warned the practice would unfairly protect incumbents.

“I think the line was vindicated. One of the major issues we had trying to get the line across was that they thought it’d be sort of the incumbency protection act,” he said. “Chris Barranco showed that if you put a little shoe leather and walking and knocking on doors, spent hardly anything doing that, that he could take out an incumbent that’s been there about 10 years.”

Pennacchio endorsed Webber and DeCroce before Morris adopted its line and stuck with the competing candidates after DeCroce lost party support in Morris. He largely steered clear of the 26th district’s Republican Assembly primary otherwise.

Some of the other supposed benefits — like avoiding costly primaries — didn’t quite materialize in the 26th.

Hundreds of thousands of dollars of outside money poured into the district, most of it backing DeCroce’s re-election or attacking her opponents, and the Assembly candidates themselves spent a collective $285,269.17 through May 25, the latest date for which campaign finance data is available.

Those numbers may be a little misleading since primary filings include spending dating back to the end of the 2019 campaign.

Pennacchio said the spending in the legislative race was something of an outlier.

“There’s other races, quite frankly, that didn’t have those challenges, didn’t put those resources into a Republican primary and now are going to be able to save those resources and hang onto them and use them in the general election,” he said.

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