Home>Campaigns>Bill Stepien helping new super PAC aimed at electing Somerset GOP candidates

Bill Stepien. (Photo: Kevin Sanders for the New Jersey Globe).

Bill Stepien helping new super PAC aimed at electing Somerset GOP candidates

Jeff Michaels will head group’s two-year effort to regain control of county government

By David Wildstein, September 27 2022 1:44 pm

A prominent lobbyist and veteran campaign strategist has launched a new super PAC to help Republicans win elections for Somerset county clerk, sheriff and commissioner this year and pursue a two-year plan to retake control of county government.

Jeff Michaels, a Hillsborough resident and former chief of staff to Gov. Donald DiFrancesco, said he has hired former White House political director Bill Stepien to manage Better Somerset Inc.

“There hasn’t been an opportunity like this in several years,” Michaels said.  “The political environment this year for Republicans is the best in decades, including in Somerset County.

Michaels said that polling conducted by his super PAC shows that the three races in Somerset “are all in a statistical tie against the Democratic incumbents” and says independent voters “are strongly breaking for Republicans.”

Stephanie Moench, the wife of Bridgewater Mayor Matt Moench, is playing a key role in helping Michaels organize the super PAC, which will make independent expenditures for the upcoming election.

In an odd twist, Leila Sadeghi, who raises money for candidates from both parties, including GOP gubernatorial candidate Jack Ciattarelli and Moench, has signed on to raise money for Somerset County Democratic Chair Peg Schaffer’s bid to help them re-elect Democratic incumbents this year.

After a 38-year dry spell, Democrats winning countywide races in 2017 when Steve Peter ousted Republican county clerk Brett Radi.  Democrats won two freeholder seats in 2018 and took control of the Board of Freeholders in 2019 for the first time since 1965 when Melonie Marano unseated longtime incumbent Pat Walsh.  They also flipped the sheriff’s office. The last three Republicans in county government – two more freeholders and the veteran surrogate – lost re-election in 2020.

A memorandum from Stepien’s firm, National Public Affairs, said their internal poll showed GOP candidates with a 12-point lead among unaffiliated voters, and with President Joe Biden’s job approvals upside-down at 36%-60% among unaffiliateds, sometimes known as independents.

Last year, Bridgewater Councilman Michael Kirsch came within 842 votes of flipping one of the Democratic county commissioner seats.

Marano faces 2021 commissioner candidate Amber Murad, while Peter faces Manville Councilwoman Suzanne Maeder.  Sheriff Darrin Russo faces retired Hillsborough police detective John Sheridan.

Stepien managed both of Chris Christie’s gubernatorial campaigns and President Donald Trump’s 2020 re-election bid.

“It comes as no surprise that the Somerset County Republicans would turn to Donald Trump’s campaign manager Bill Stepien to manage their dark money super PAC since the top of their ticket, three-time loser Tom Kean, promised to have Donald Trump’s back no matter how many top secret documents the ex-president stole,” said Schaffer.  “They need Stepien’s dirty tricks and dirtier money because they have nothing to run on, and less to run for.”

Michaels runs Optimus Partners, a lobbying firm he owns with attorney Phil Norcross.

This story was updated at 4:59 PM with comment from Schaffer.

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