Somerset County Democratic Chairwoman Peg Schaffer asked party leaders in the 16th legislative district to hold off their endorsements until candidates for State Sen. Kip Bateman’s (R-Branchburg) seat are screened in an open letter Monday.
“To preserve the comity and success of the past few years, and to give us the best chance for a resounding victory in the 16th and each of our local and county elections, I ask for all municipal and county leaders to keep their powder dry until the selection process is completed, and not make any leadership endorsements or announcements of organizational support for the time being,” she said.
Bateman, 63, last week announced he would not seek re-election, putting an end to a 28-year career in the legislature.
Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker (D-South Brunswick) intends to run for the seat, and Assemblyman Roy Freiman (D-Hillsborough) is eyeing a bid as well.
Schaffer’s preference for a candidate from Somerset County is an open secret — she’d like the ability to exercise senatorial courtesy over gubernatorial nominations — but the chair has so far followed her own advice and avoided naming a favorite for the Senate nod.
There’s also concern in South Jersey Democratic circles that an expanded Middlesex County Senate delegation could endanger Senate President Steve Sweeney’s hold on his caucus.
If the Middlesex faction grows too large, they fear they can’t ensure Sweeney will be re-elected to the leadership post after November 2023, when a deal to keep Sweeney as the chamber’s leader expires.
“This is not the time to ignore the process and simply anoint a candidate,” said Schaffer, who is also vice chair of the Democratic State Committee. “I understand that everyone is eager to get started, especially after all the successes we have had in recent years at the local, county, state, and federal level. These are great times to be Democrats, and we have won and will continue winning if we all work together.”