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State Sen. Joe Pennacchio. (Photo: Kevin Sanders for the New Jersey Globe).

Senate GOP caucus rebukes primary challenges to its members

At least four Senate Republicans facing primary threats this year

By Joey Fox, February 10 2023 11:31 am

In a statement released this morning, the New Jersey State Senate Republican caucus decried the prospect of primary challenges to its members, putting up a united front against a set of challengers looking to take incumbent senators down.

“Our goal this year is simple: winning five more seats to secure a Senate Republican majority,” reads the statement, which was signed by all 16 members of the caucus. “The first step towards this goal is returning each member of our caucus to Trenton. While we respect the individual procedures and processes of each county, we stand firm in support of all of our caucus members.”

Four Republican senators are facing primary contests this year, representing a full quarter of the Republican caucus. Excluding the three senators who aren’t seeking re-election this year, nearly one in every three Republicans in the Senate is under threat of potentially losing renomination.

Perhaps the most endangered of the incumbents is State Sen. Sam Thompson (R-Old Bridge), who will face Old Bridge Mayor Owen Henry. Henry had been encouraged by party leaders to run and is the favorite to win the district’s four county lines over Thompson, who at 87 has many Republicans nervous about his ability to serve another four-year term.

Thompson has responded to the challenge with indignation, saying that age should be no reason to topple a competent and well-liked incumbent. He proclaimed as much on the Senate floor last week, asking fellow Republican senators to speak out in his defense – but none did so.

Also facing a declared primary challenger is State Sen. Joe Pennacchio (R-Montville); Morris County Commissioner Tom Mastrangelo announced his campaign just yesterday after months of speculation. Pennacchio has gotten commitments of support from most Republicans in the district, but Mastrangelo has won elections off-the-line before and could still pose a real threat.

In Bergen County, Northern Valley School Board member Michele LaTour has filed for a bid against State Sen. Holly Schepisi (R-River Vale), who got to the Senate two years ago after an intense convention fight. It remains to be seen whether LaTour will wage a serious enough campaign to stand a chance of unseating Schepisi. 

Finally, there’s State Sen. Ed Durr (R-Logan), who has been unable to unify his district’s Republicans after his staggering 2021 victory against former Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-West Deptford).

Durr has strained relations with many of his fellow Gloucester County Republicans, among them Assemblywoman Beth Sawyer (R-Woolwich), his running mate. Salem County Commissioner Mickey Ostrum said today that he will campaign against Durr, and Sawyer is likely to join his slate.

Each of the primary challengers – and any more than may come along, though none are clearly on the horizon – have their own unique motives driving their campaigns. But the Senate GOP has a shared message for all of them: don’t come for us.


This story was updated at 1:00 p.m. to reflect that Ostrum will indeed challenge Durr.

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