Click play for audio version of this story
The top three Republicans in Assembly leadership positions face tough re-election campaigns in their own districts this year, creating the prospect of a contested race for Minority Leader later this year.
Minority Leader Jon Bramnick (R-Westfield) and Minority Whip Nancy Munoz (R-Summit) are seeking re-election in the politically competitive 21st district, and Republican Conference Leader Anthony M. Bucco (R-Boonton) is fighting for his political life in the adjacent 25th district.
Munoz was re-elected in 2017 by 1,554 votes – a margin of just one percent – with Bramnick running 1,010 votes ahead of his running mate. Bucco won by 2,430 votes, a margin of 2%.
The chances of Munoz stepping up to be Minority Leader are slim. If Bramnick loses, it likely means that Munoz had already lost her seat.
Bucco is viewed as the heir apparent – that might be his brand – if Bramnick loses, or if he moves up to the Senate to replace Tom Kean in 2021. But Bucco could find himself out of the Assembly completely in a district that gave Democratic congressional candidates a 9,000 vote plurality in 2018.
There is no clear front-runner to replace Bramnick if Bucco is out of the picture. The shortlist of potential replacements is long.
The possibility of an open race for Minority Leader creates an opportunity for an alliance between Monmouth and Ocean counties – a relationship that was often troubled during the reign of George Gilmore.
Assuming no November surprises, the two Jersey shore counties will have a combined ten votes next year. If the leadership team is wiped out, the Monmouth/Ocean coalition might have as much as 91% of the votes needed to elect a new Minority Leader. That’s a strong block, but it doesn’t take into consideration personal relationships between other candidates and legislators from the two shore counties.
Technically, 14 of the Assembly’s 26 Republicans hold leadership positions – many of them more honorific than substantive. At least 3 of the other 11 posts are up for grabs, due to the retirements of Deputy Minority Leaders Amy Handlin (R-Middletown) and David Wolfe (R-Brick), and Republican Parliamentarian Michael Patrick Carroll (R-Morris Township), who has been Bucco’s running mate.
Noteworthy from a historical perspective: a sitting Republican Assembly Minority Leader has not lost re-election in at least the last 100 years.