Just two weeks after announcing that he was switching parties and running for re-election as a Democrat, State Sen. Sam Thompson (R-Old Bridge) has changed his mind and will instead retire at the end of his term and not be a candidate for re-election in 2023.
“I have decided I’m not going to run for re-election,” Thompson told the New Jersey Globe. My priority should be my wife. She’s 91, and she’s had two falls in the last year and has trouble getting around. We are celebrating our 66th anniversary on Thursday. I owe her my full attention.”
The 87-year-old Middlesex County lawmaker changed his party affiliation after Republicans asked him to retire and signaled that they planned to replace him on their ticket with Owen Henry, the three-term mayor of Old Bridge.
Angered by the loss of party support, Thompson confirmed on Super Bowl Sunday that he would switch parties and seek a fifth term as a Democrat instead of running off the line in the GOP primary. His odds were reduced two days earlier when he missed the deadline to run at the Monmouth Republican convention.
Thompson made it clear that he will remain a Democrat until his term ends on January 9, 2024.
“They have welcomed me with open arms,” he said. “They had pledged to support my re-election.”
But a race for any Democrat – even a 28-year legislator – in the heavily Republican 12th district would face insurmountable hurdles.
It’s been 22 years since any Democrat won the towns comprising the 12th under a new map approved last year. The 12th, which goes from Old Bridge through parts of Monmouth and Ocean into northern Burlington County, went for Republican gubernatorial candidate Jack Ciattarelli by 27 points against Gov. Phil Murphy in 2021. Donald Trump won the district by 14 points against Joe Biden.
Last week, Senate President Nicholas Scutari welcomed Thompson into the Democratic caucus. He is expected to join them for the first time today.
A former Middlesex County GOP chairman and a two-time delegate to the Republican National Convention pledged to Donald Trump, Thompson has compiled a conservative, pro-life, pro-gun record since first winning a State Assembly seat in 1997.
Not all Democrats have warmly embraced Thompson’s party switch, but none opposed it.
After a columnist reported that Thompson was tempering his position on abortion but said that terminating pregnancies should not be “the primary method of birth control,” former Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg tweeted that “hopefully someone will tell him” that isn’t true.
Democrats now have until March 27 to find a Senate candidate to replace Thompson, who had no primary opposition. In some parts of the district, including Old Bridge, where Henry’s departure creates an open mayoral seat, Democrats can’t be without a top-of-the-ticket.
“I wanted to make my announcement now so that my party has time to find another candidate,” Thompson said.
Against Republican Assemblymen Rob Clifton (R-Matawan) and Alex Sauickie (R-Jackson), Democrats are expected to run Raya Arbiol, a U.S. Navy hospital corpsman from Old Bridge, and Paul Sarti, a pensions benefits specialist with the state Treasury Department from Jackson.
Clifton defeated Arbiol in 2021 by over 23,000 votes, and Sauckie beat Sarti in a 2022 special election by more than 25,000 votes.