Two potential Republican challengers against State Sen. Vin Gopal (D-Long Branch) in Monmouth County are leaving the door just slightly ajar but have taken no steps to run for the State Senate in one of the state’s most competitive legislative districts
Colts Neck Township Committeeman Frank Rizzuto and Neptune City Council President Brian J. Thomas both told the New Jersey Globe on Friday that they haven’t dismissed taking on Gopal but aren’t actively seeking the seat.
“I would seriously consider it, but it’s a longshot,” said Rizzuto, a former mayor. “They had approached me last time.”
One obstacle to his candidacy, Rizzuto explained, was his full-time position as a Long Branch police captain. In a city where the chief of police post has been eliminated, Rizzuto is the ranking non-civilian law enforcement officer.
“I’ am getting ready to retire, but I would need a waiver from the Monmouth County Prosecutor,” Rizzuto said. “That waiver might not be in the cards.”
The new prosecutor is Raymond Santiago, a former Democratic State Senate candidate who was recommended for the post by Gopal.
Thomas is no stranger to the legislature: he worked for GOP lawmakers in the 11th district from 2011 to 2015 and is now a top staffer to Republican legislators in the next-door 13th district. In between his legislative stints, he worked in the Office of the Governor.
“As of right now, I haven’t given it any consideration yet,” Thomas said.
Rizzuto suggested that Gopal is beatable next year.
“Are you happy with your safety? Are you happy with your taxes,” he asked. “Is anybody for common sense? Common values.”
The top GOP recruit to run against Gopal, Monmouth County Commissioner Director Tom Arnone, told the New Jersey Globe on December 22 that he would not run for the Senate. Christine Hanlon, the popular county clerk, is not interested in running.
Two freshman assemblywomen from the 11th, Marilyn Piperno (R-Colts Neck) and Kim Eulner (R-Shrewsbury), are now the wildcards in the Senate race. The two narrowly upset three-term incumbents Eric Houghtaling (D-Neptune) and Joann Downey (D-Freehold) in 2021, but neither lawmaker has indicated any plans other than securing re-election to the Assembly.
Any path to a Republican majority in the Senate is paved through the 11th. Republicans need to pick up five seats to take control.
A former Monmouth County Democratic Chairman, Gopal took the 11th district Senate seat away from three-term incumbent Jennifer Beck (R-Red Bank) in 2017 by 4,158 votes, 43.6% to 46.4%. He was re-elected to a second term last year by 2,682 votes, 42%-48%, against a political newcomer, Lori Annetta. Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy lost the 11th by over 5,000 votes.