Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi (R-River Vale) narrowly won a State Senate seat on Tuesday evening, defeating Assemblyman Bob Auth (R-Old Tappan) by eight votes in a special election convention to fill the seat left vacant by the death of Gerald Cardinale last month.
Schepisi won 111-103, 51.8% to 48.2%.
She will complete the remainder of Cardinale’s current term, which runs until January 11, 2022. The new Senator could be sworn as early as next week; the Senate has a March 15 quorum call scheduled.
“I’m deeply humbled to earn the support of the Republican county committee members from Bergen and Passaic counties,” Schepisi said. “For nearly a decade, I have represented the 39th legislative district in the state Assembly, standing up for our Republican values, fighting for our communities, and working to grow our party.”
Schepisi pledged to unite Republicans.
“As State Senator, I will work with our committees to unify our party and ensure our success this November,” the senator-elect said. “With so much at stake this November, it’s critical we all work together to fight back against Governor Murphy’s radical, left-wing agenda while pushing to reopen our schools, our businesses and our state.”
The 49-year-old Schepisi, a five-term assemblywoman, had been seeking the Republican Senate nomination in January and was planning to challenge Cardinale for the Bergen GOP organization line.
She had secured multiple endorsements from 39th district mayors and won the Republican line in Passaic, a win that turned out to be shortly after Cardinale’s death.
Cardinale was fighting for the support of his home county organization but had no plans to run off the line in the Republican primary, the New Jersey Globe has confirmed.
The senator, died on February 20 at age 86 after a series of health issues over the last year. Cardinale had been elected to the State Assembly in 1979 and to his first of 12 terms in the State Senate in 1981.
At the time of his death, he was tied for the record as the longest-serving State Senator in New Jersey history; no Republican had ever served longer in the legislature than Cardinale.
Auth, 64, was a longtime Cardinale legislative aide and campaign staffer before his election to fill an open Assembly seat eight years ago.
He entered the race on February 27 with the endorsement of Carole Cardinale, the widow of the late senator, but dropped his bid on the morning of March 4.
Auth said he would seek re-election to the Assembly, but he re-entered the race hours later, saying he had moved too hastily.
The race will reset in advance of the Bergen County GOP District 39 convention to pick candidates for the June primary. That comes this month.
On Monday, Auth attempted to persuade Schepisi to sign a unity pledge that would see the loser of Tuesday’s convention run for Assembly. He repeated that call Tuesday after no response came.
It’s not clear whether he will continue his campaign for the upper chamber.
Schepisi must resign her Assembly seat to move up to the Senate. That will trigger another special election convention within 7 to 35 days of the resignation date.
This story was updated at 9:58 PM with comment from Schepisi.