Assemblyman Dan Benson (D-Hamilton) won the Mercer County Democratic line for county executive in a landslide today, beating out five-term incumbent County Executive Brian Hughes.
Benson won 384 votes among the assembled county committee members, representing 78% of the total, while Hughes received 109 votes and 22%. Mercer Democrats have a unique rule that allows candidates who receive at least 40% of the vote to share the party column, but Hughes didn’t even come close.
“Our message of change – increased transparency, ending the waste of taxpayer dollars, and focusing on innovation and collaboration – really hit home,” Benson said. “I think people are ready, and we’re going to work twice as hard to win, not only in this fight today, but in November against a Republican, too.”
The result is remarkable – incumbents rarely lose party support in New Jersey – but also far from surprising. Benson had assembled an intimidating array of supporters long before today’s convention, and Hughes admitted at a New Jersey Globe debate last week that he was unlikely to win the county line.
Hughes said after the results were announced that he plans to continue his campaign, allowing Mercer County Democratic voters to have a say in the June primary. That could make things awkward for some of Hughes’ pre-convention supporters, particularly three state legislators who will now be officially ticketed with Benson.
“This committee certainly sent me a message after 20 years,” Hughes said. “But I think the rank-and-file of Mercer County in June deserve an opportunity to speak, to be heard from, and to make their presence felt in this party.”
Hughes, who first took office in 2004, has pitched his re-election bid on the message of success and stability. As Hughes repeatedly emphasized, his first win – back in the era when Mercer County was not yet unassailably Democratic – flipped the office from Republican control, and he’s questioned why a fellow Democrat like Benson would be challenging him now.
But Benson, twenty years Hughes’ junior and an assemblyman since 2011, is arguing that the county needs new leadership and a recommitment to good governance. He’s drawn attention to cases of mismanagement within the county government, particularly a report from the state comptroller that Hughes’ former chief financial officer cost the county nearly $5 million in penalties for late tax filings.