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Cumberland County Freeholder Carol Musso, right, with former Freeholder Joseph Riley. Photo: Facebook.

Cumberland’s Democratic freeholder race too close to call

Rival slates locked in tight race with thousands of ballots uncounted

By Nikita Biryukov, July 08 2020 1:42 am

The Democratic race for Cumberland County Surrogate is too close to call.

Freeholders Carol Musso and George Castellini, who are running on the party line, lead along with former freeholder Donna Pearson, who served two terms on the Board of Freeholders around the turn the millennium.

Musso has 2,870 votes, while Castellini has 2,460, and Pearson, who is running on a slate with Freeholder Jack Surrency, has 2,434.

That puts her just 47 votes ahead of Millville commissioner Bruce Cooper, who is running with the organization backed candidates.

Tracy Wells-Huggins had 2,195 votes cast in her name, while Surrency got 2,054.

The results are far from final. There are roughly 6,000 uncounted ballots in Cumberland, roughly two-thirds of which were cast by Democrats, though exactly how many belonged to members of the party is unclear.

Those tallies do not include uncounted mail-in ballots received by Tuesday, late-arriving vote-by-mail ballots postmarked by 8 p.m. Tuesday, provisional ballots that won’t be counted for at least a week and mail-in ballots that were disqualified but may be cured at a later date.

Surrency formed a ticket with  Pearson, who served two terms near the turn of the century, and Tracy Higgins, a nurse who ran for Vineland school board three years ago, after Cumberland County’s Democratic Organization refused to back his re-election.

Musso, Castellini and Cooper bracketed with former Vice President Joe Biden, U.S. Sen. Cory Booker and House candidate Brigid Callahan Harrison in column A, while Surrency and his slate landed in column F with House candidate Amy Kennedy, who carried the county.

Surrency claims he was dumped off the line for splitting on issues with the county’s Democratic leaders. In June, he received a censure from the freeholder board after attacking them over a $386,000 appropriation for sanitizing the county’s jail in the months that preceded the election.

The county-backed slate holds a significant fundraising advantage over the Progressive Democrats for Cumberland County slate.

In forms filed with the Election Law Enforcement Commission, Surrency’s team reported raising just $24,123 by June 25. They had burned through most of that money, ending the reporting period with $1,648 banked, meaning their joint fundraising committee had less in its coffers than any of the candidates on the opposing slate had individually.

Musso, the race’s top fundraiser, received $48,632 in donations through June 25 and then had $14,195 left in her war chest. Castellini had $12,139 banked 11 days out from the primary after raising $21,284 throughout the race.

Cooper raised $30,900 after launching his House bid. He spent most of that money, ending the reporting period with just $3,514 on hand.

In November, the winning slate will face Republicans Victoria Lods, Darwin Cooper, Jr. and Antonio Romeo for freeholder, and retired prosecutor’s office lieutenant Michael Donato for sheriff.

Democratic Sheriff Robert Austino ran unopposed in the primary after his opponent, Dennis D’Augostine, failed to get enough signatures to get onto the ballot.

It’s possible that control of the county will flip in November.

Democrats currently hold a 6-1 majority on the freeholder board, meaning all three Republicans would need to win to flip the county.

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