The process of picking Republican challengers to challenge two Democratic assemblymen in the politically competitive 16th district begins on Wednesday, when Hunterdon County Republicans hold a screening committee meeting to interview four potential candidates.
Seeking the chance to take on Andrew Zwicker (D-South Brunswick) and Roy Freiman (D-Hillsborough) are former Somerset County freeholder Mark Caliguire, former Rocky Hill mayor Ed Zimmerman, former Montgomery mayor Christine Madrid, and Hunterdon County Agriculture Development Board member Forest Locandro.
The candidates will need to compete at four separate county conventions over the next three weeks if they want to run on the organization line in the June Republican primary.
Hunterdon will hold their convention on March 12, followed by Mercer three days later and Middlesex the day after that. The Somerset County Republican convention is scheduled for March 25.
The possibility of a contested primary exists if different combinations of candidates win different organization lines.
Somerset makes up about 48% of the Republican primary vote in the 16th, with Hunterdon at 43%. Middlesex has about 6% of the Republican primary votes, with Mercer at just 3%.
Caliguire is making his third run for office in as many years.
He lost a State Assembly race in 2017, running 3,673 votes behind Freiman for the seat Jack Ciattarelli (R-Hillsborough) gave up running for governor. His lost his hometown, Montgomery, where he served as a councilman and mayor, by 438 votes.
Last year, Caliguire lost his bid for re-election to the Somerset County Board of Freeholders. In that race, he lost the 16th district portion of the county by 407 votes and lost Montgomery by 1,267.
Madrid, who served as director of the Division of Temporary Disability and Family Leave Insurance at the state Department of Labor under Gov. Chris Christie, became mayor last August when Mark Conforti resigned to move to Florida.
She lost her bid for re-election to the township committee three months later by 1,262 votes.
Zimmerman was the first to enter the race. He served as a Rocky Hill councilman from 2004 to 2006 and as mayor from 2007 to 2014. He was the governor’s appointee to the state Council on Local Mandates.
Locandro, 24, is the son of former Delaware Township mayor Roger Locandro. He works at his family-owned tree farm and as a volunteer firefighter.
The 16th is one of two in the State that elected a Republican senator and two Democratic assemblymen in 2017.
The district has 14,599 more Democrats than Republicans – up considerably from the 5,275 Democratic edge when the 16th was drawn in 2011.
Zwicker unseated assemblywoman Donna Simon (R-Readington) by just 78 votes in 2015. He was the first Democratic assemblyman from that district since James Bowers (D-Somerville) lost his bid for a third term to Fred Pope (R-Bridgewater) in 1934.
Editor’s Note: an earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the date of the Middlesex screening committee. It is March 6, not March 7.