Home>Campaigns>Spadea casts his lot in contested legislative primaries

State Sen. Ed Durr, left, and radio host Bill Spadea. (Photo: Ed Durr via Twitter).

Spadea casts his lot in contested legislative primaries

Prospective gubernatorial candidate wading into races that Ciattarelli has stayed out of

By Joey Fox, May 16 2023 3:49 pm

Bill Spadea, the right-wing radio host who is considered to be a near-certain Republican gubernatorial candidate in 2025, seems to be everywhere these days.

Last month, he headlined the State Senate campaign kickoff of Gloucester County Commissioner Nick DeSilvio (R-Franklin). This evening, he’s attending a fundraiser for the Morris County Republican Victory PAC, an organization affiliated with an array of off-the-line Morris GOP candidates. Next week, he’ll be the “special guest” at a rally hosted by two Republican Assembly candidates in Sussex County.

The common factor across these different events? In each, Spadea is wading into a hotly contested primary – one that his preferred candidate is not guaranteed to win.

In the far northwestern 24th legislative district, Spadea is backing Lafayette Board of Education President Josh Aikens and Warren County Commissioner Jason Sarnoski (R-Independence) in their Assembly race against candidates backed by the district’s retiring incumbents. Two districts to the east, Spadea appears to be supporting a legislative ticket led by Morris County Commissioner Tom Mastrangelo (R-Montville), who is waging a difficult fight against a slate of incumbents.

And most prominently, Spadea has gone out on a limb for DeSilvio and State Sen. Ed Durr (R-Logan) in the South Jersey GOP’s intra-party war, penning op-eds in support of both candidates and castigating those who want to defeat them.

“Stand up for senators who understand and appreciate working and middle class families and workers,” Spadea wrote on Twitter last week. “Don’t let the elites kick [Durr] out of office. Stand up for those who speak for US.”

All four primaries, the most competitive GOP contests in the state, have their own dynamics, and not all are being fought along clear ideological lines. But for the most part, Spadea – an avowed conservative who is likely to be 2025’s furthest-right gubernatorial candidate – is supporting the candidates who have pitched themselves as the true conservatives in their races.

It’s not hard to connect the endorsements to Spadea’s prospective 2025 campaign. As Spadea works to build his talk-radio base into a proper political operation, he’ll need allies in high places, and forcefully backing legislative candidates is a good way to forge those kinds of alliances.

In some cases, Spadea is aligned with local party organizations, thus strengthening his relationships there; in others he’s supporting insurgent off-the-line candidates who could give him footholds in unfriendly territory.

Wading into competitive primaries, though, is also a strategy that comes with high risks. If Spadea’s preferred candidates do poorly in June, he’ll have alienated swaths of the party establishment with little to show for it. (Spadea did not respond to a request for comment for this story.)

Spadea’s tactics contrast with those of Jack Ciattarelli, the 2021 Republican gubernatorial nominee and his likely competitor in the 2025 primary.

Ciattarelli has been no less active than Spadea this spring, attending events up and down the state and working to shore up support among the party faithful. Despite what some candidates have posted on social media, however, he says he’s not actually taking sides in any of the state’s top Republican primaries.

Ciattarelli told the New Jersey Globe in a statement that although hotly contested primaries are part of a “healthy process,” he opposes bitter contests and wants to focus on beating Democrats in November.

“What makes primaries unhealthy is when they become blood sport or get used by so-called Republicans who, for very selfish reasons, seek to divide our party,” he said. “The ultimate goal is to win in November and deliver results for the people of New Jersey. It is my hope that, post-primary, all Republicans truly committed to the success of our party will band together to achieve that goal.”

(Those in Ciattarelli’s orbit have not necessarily taken the same hands-off approach. Chris Russell, Ciattarelli’s top strategist during both his 2017 and 2021 gubernatorial campaigns, is working with tickets led by former Washington Township Councilman Chris Del Borrello in the 4th district and Assemblyman Parker Space in the 24th district, putting him on the opposite side of Spadea in both cases.)

As Spadea and Ciattarelli steadily kick their campaigns into gear, the big question will be whether the candidates involved in this year’s competitive primaries will remember their allegiance or lack thereof. Durr, one of the candidates who has Spadea’s backing, said that he’d happily take anyone’s support but didn’t seem overly upset with Ciattarelli for not endorsing him.

“I’m not concerned with 2025, I’m concerned with June of 2023,” Durr said.

Of course, there are also plenty of races where both Spadea and Ciattarelli, and anyone else who might be interested in running for governor, will likely come down on the same side. The two men can be united in support of Republican candidates without primary opposition, especially in competitive districts – Spadea’s odd alliance with Democratic State Sen. Vin Gopal (D-Long Branch) notwithstanding.

For example, Ciattarelli and Spadea were both in attendance earlier this month at a fundraiser for Essex GOP chair and Assembly candidate Al Barlas. Supporting Barlas, who is near-certain to be a member of the legislature next year, is a risk-free proposition for anyone with aspirations of higher office.

Only Spadea, however, has taken sides in the competitive contests that have riven the GOP this spring. Next month’s election will determine whether his strategy is a smart one – or whether he’s hitched himself to a wagon of primary losers.

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