Somerset County Democrats could force a primary for State Assembly in the 21st district if their convention this week goes in a different direction than the candidates picked by the Union County screening committee last month.
There appears to be some significant opposition to simply ratifying the Union County candidates, Lisa Mandelblatt and Stacey Gunderman, for the chance to take on incumbents Jon Bramnick (R-Westfield) and Nancy Munoz (R-Summit).
“We’re still weighing our options,” said Bernards Township Democratic municipal chair Nancy D’Andrea. “Everything is still to be determined.”
Two of the candidates who lost the Union screening committee vote, Jill LaZare and Goutam Jois, are still seeking support for the nomination.
There is speculation that if LaZare and Jois win the Somerset convention, they will create their own line in Union by running candidates for freeholder against the organization line backed by State Sen. Nicholas Scutari (D-Linden), the Democratic county chairman.
In 2017, 75% of the Democratic primary votes in the 21st were cast in Union County. Somerset had 20% and Morris made up 5%. Morris has indicated that they will back the Union County choice.
Mandelblatt could also wind up running on the Somerset organization line with Gunderman’s primary opponent – something that puts a wrench in the joint campaign the two have already launched.
Watchung Democratic municipal chairman Lou Beckerman says that he is personally backing Mandelblatt and Gunderman but could not speak for his county committee. Johanna McCarten, the Far Hills Democratic municipal chair, will be out of town on Thursday and not attending the convention.
Somerset County Democratic chair Peg Schaffer told the New Jersey Globe last month that she was prepared to back the Union County candidates, unless there was pushback from the Somerset towns in the district.
It appears that there is pushback.
If the local county committee turns out in full, Bernards has more votes than Far Hills, Warren and Watchung combined — not including votes cast by Schaffer and members of her executive committee.
Schaffer also has the option of calling for an open Assembly primary.
Most important for Somerset is a strong top of the ticket in the four 21st district municipalities as Democrats focus on winning control of the freeholder board and electing a sheriff.
The same issue applies to Bernards, which is seeking to pick up a second council seat this year after Joan Bannan Harris broke the all-Republican hold on local government in 2018.
Mandelblatt was the top vote-getter at the Union Democratic screening committee with seven votes, followed by six for Gunderman and five for LaZare. Union leader Carlos Gomez and former state Division on Women director Ileana Montes each received one vote and subsequently withdrew from the race.
Jois received no votes in his home county for the second the second year in a row. In 2018, he was shutout as a candidate for Congress and finished last in the primary with just 14% of the vote.