Home>Campaigns>Rumpf or Gove — maybe both — could lose the Ocean GOP screening committee vote on Monday night

Assemblywoman DiAnne Gove. (Photo: Kevin Sanders for the New Jersey Globe).

Rumpf or Gove — maybe both — could lose the Ocean GOP screening committee vote on Monday night

Six candidates taking on incumbents, with Myhre and Novak leading the pack

By David Wildstein, February 17 2023 3:17 pm

Two veteran Republican legislators could lose party support for re-election when the Ocean County Republican screening committee votes on Monday evening, but either way, it looks like there will be a floor fight at the party’s March convention.

In the 9th district, incumbents Brian Rumpf (R-Little Egg Harbor) and DiAnne Gove (R-Long Beach) face what might be an uphill fight to return to the legislature after the retirement of State Sen. Christopher Connors (R-Lacey) and George Gilmore’s return as GOP county chairman last year are part of a realignment in Ocean County politics.

Stafford Mayor Greg Myhre is well-positioned to emerge as the top vote-getter when the screening committee votes, leaving Rumpf or Gove without an endorsement.

And both incumbents could easily be left without support.  Former Barnegat Mayor John Novak might wind up with a screening committee endorsement.

The race also includes Lacey Mayor Mark Dykoff,  Lacey Councilman Timothy McDonald, Berkeley Councilman James Byrnes, and Valerie Smith, the head of the Ocean Academy Charter School in Lakewood.

Byrnes is also seeking party support for county commissioner; the incumbent, Joseph Vicari, is retiring after nearly 42 years in office.  Byrnes was permitted to appear before the screening committee last night as a candidate for both posts, making it unnecessary to return on Monday when other county commissioner candidates appear.

Last year, Rumpf and Gove were among a group of GOP leaders who signed a letter endorsing Sheriff Michael Mastronardy for county chairman against Gilmore.  Myhre and Novak were staunch Gilmore supporters.

Berkeley Mayor Carmen Amato received the support of the screening committee for the 9th district State Senate seat.  Amato is unopposed in his bid for the GOP nomination to succeed Connors.

Rumpf had mulled a Senate bid but later announced his support of Amato.  While Rumpf may believe that was enough to salvage his Assembly seat, it’s unclear whether party leaders who backed Gilmore agree.  Rump already has a job at the Ocean County Health Department – he’s the $140,000-a-year director of administration and program development – and there are some Republicans who believe he’s fortunate to keep that post.

Indeed, there are several Republicans who think it’s time to move on from Rumpf and Gove, who have been in the legislature since 2003 and 2009, respectively.

“They haven’t distinguished themselves in the Assembly, and the Republicans have a big bench in this district,” said a Republican municipal chair in the 9th district, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.  “It’s not like traffic will stop if they’re no longer there.”

Winning the endorsement of the screening committee is just stage one of the nomination process.  Candidates can run at the convention – in Ocean, it’s called the County Council – on March 8 or in the June 6 primary election.

A screening committee win doesn’t assure a candidate the organization line.

In 2020, former Burlington County Freeholder Kate Gibbs won the Ocean County GOP screening committee endorsement in her bid for Congress in New Jersey’s 3rd district. Still, Richter – with help from Gilmore and Myhre – won the convention by eight votes, 68-60.

During the 2005 Republican gubernatorial primary, Ocean County was uncharacteristically full of drama.  Seven candidates competed for the nomination to run against U.S. Senator Jon Corzine in an election the year after James E. McGreevey resigned.

The leading candidates were former West Windsor mayor Doug Forrester, who got screwed out of a U.S. Senate seat in 2002, and former Jersey City Mayor Bret Schundler, who won 42% against McGreevey in 2001.

The shocker came in March when Morris County Freeholder John Murphy won the screening committee’s recommendation. The victory briefly propelled Murphy into the race.

Bob Schroeder, a local officeholder in Bergen County, had been working Ocean County hard.  He had a beach house in Lavallette and had the backing of then-State Sen. Andrew Ciesla (R-Brick).

At the Ocean GOP convention, Schroeder led the first ballot with 72 votes, followed by Murphy (45), Forrester (41), and Schundler (31).  The other contenders — Assemblyman Paul DiGaetano (R-Nutley), former Bogota mayor Steve Lonegan, and former Bergen County freeholder Todd Caliguire — received no votes.

Schundler asked his supporters to back Schroeder on the second ballot.

Forrester had lost the Bergen GOP convention a week earlier, and Schundler wanted to make the case that his main rival for the nomination was tanking.

Schroeder beat Murphy by a vote of 97 to 47, with Forrester finishing third with 44 votes.

Forrester carried Ocean County in the June GOP primary by a 37%-27% margin over Schundler.   Schroeder, running on the organization line, finished third with 15% of the vote, and Murphy, who won the recommendation of the screening committee, came in fifth with a mere 6% of the vote — 762 votes behind Lonegan.

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