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Clinton Town Councilman Ross Traphagen. (Photo: Ross Traphagen).

Republican Clinton councilman launches Assembly bid in LD16

Ross Traphagen could be GOP choice for competitive seat

By Joey Fox, January 31 2023 3:11 pm

Clinton Town Councilman Ross Traphagen announced his bid for the Assembly in the 16th legislative district today, potentially giving Republicans one of their nominees in the competitive seat.

“I am deeply concerned about the future of our state. New Jersey continues to be one of the most expensive and unaffordable places to live in the country,” he said in a statement. “I believe that we can work to change course, but we need to change leadership in Trenton to make that possible.”

Traphagen was first elected to the council in his competitive Hunterdon County town in 2019, and was re-elected last year by 15 votes even as former Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-Ringoes) carried Clinton 54%-46%. In both of his campaigns, Traphagen was the council’s top vote-getter.

“I know that in a purple community like ours, it takes leaders who are willing to find common sense solutions to problems, and then work together to get the job done,” he said. “That is what I have done each and every day as a local elected official, and what I can bring to the table as a legislator in the 16th district.”

Not long ago, the Somerset County-based 16th district was a Republican district; it never once elected a Democratic legislator from its creation in 1973 until 2015. But thanks to an unfavorable redistricting cycle in 2011 and suburban Central Jersey’s broader swing towards Democrats, Republicans have lost their grip on the district and now hold none of its seats.

The party is hoping to change that this year, as legislative Republicans fight to build on their recent gains and further erode Democrats’ majority. The recently redrawn district would have voted for Gov. Phil Murphy by five percentage points in 2021, meaning that it’s Democratic-leaning but not prohibitively so.

Leading Republicans’ efforts is former Rep. Michael Pappas (R-Branchburg), who is aiming for a rematch after losing to now-State Sen. Andrew Zwicker (D-South Brunswick) 53%-47% in 2021.

Republicans haven’t yet settled on their Assembly slate, though Traphagen may give them their Hunterdon County ticket member. The other Assembly candidate is likely to be from Somerset County, with the leading possibility being Rosy Thakkar, the Montgomery GOP chairwoman who if elected would be the first Sikh American to serve in the legislature.

Republicans’ two 2021 nominees, Vinny Panico and Joe Lukac, are both looking like they won’t be candidates: Lukac because his home of Manville was redistricted into the 23rd district, and Panico because he’s focusing instead on the Readington Township Committee seat he was elected to last year.

Democrats, meanwhile, are sorting out their own slate after first-term Assemblywoman Sadaf Jaffer (D-Montgomery) unexpectedly announced her retirement. The likeliest option seems to be former Malinowski district director Mitchelle Drulis; whoever ultimately gets the nod will run on a ticket with Zwicker and Assemblyman Roy Freiman (D-Hillsborough).

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