Mercer County Republican Chair Lisa Richford faces a challenge for re-election tomorrow night from Lawrence Township Republican Club President Falk Engel.
County committee members elected in the July 7 primary election will meeting in Hamilton for an outdoor vote.
Richford survived a recall attempt in September 2019, but organizers fell short of the two-thirds majority they needed to remove her from office.
Engel said hard feelings linger in the Mercer GOP over Richford’s attempt to oust Hamilton Mayor Kelly Yaede in the 2019 primary.
Richford gave the organization line to Yaede’s primary challenger, David Henderson.
“She actively worked to defeat the mayor of Hamilton Township,” Engel said. “We lost Hamilton Township after she undermined the mayor.”
Yaede lost the general election to Democrat Jeff Martin, and the Hamilton council now has a 5-0 Democratic majority.
Richford has the endorsement of newly-elected Hamilton GOP Municipal Chair Ileana Schirmer, a former councilwoman.
“I am proud to personally endorse Lisa Richford for Mercer County Republican Committee Chairwoman,” Schirmer said. “Lisa is a woman of integrity and a woman with a backbone who took on corruption within her own party.”
Schirmer did not seek re-election last year and declined to back Yaede for re-election.
“She did not allow those bent on personal revenge to manipulate her or bully her,” she said. “Lisa is exactly what the Mercer Country Republican Committee needs to continue to move forward.”
With more than 70 county committee seats filled, Hamilton represent the largest block of votes in Mercer.
But some seats are still filled by Yaede supporters, including the former mayor’s parents.
In 2017, Richford endorsed Kim Guadagno for the Republican gubernatorial nomination, but the county committee voted 67 to 31 to award the organization line to Jack Ciattarelli.
Mercer County Republicans haven’t won a countywide race since County Clerk Cathy DiCostanzo was re-elected in 2000 (although Chris Christie carried Mercer in 2013) and have become nearly extinct at the local level.
With the loss of Yaede and the Republican councilmembers and the defeat of Hopewell Township Committeeman John Hart by Democrat Courtney Peters-Manning in 2019, it has left Hightstown Councilman Lee Stults the only Republican elected in a partisan race in the entirety of Mercer County.
Stults is not seeking re-election this year and his replacement, James Eufemia, lost his bid for a council seat by a 2-1 margin last year.
Recently re-elected Mercer County Democratic Chair Janice Mironov has pledged to take the last Hightstown seat from the GOP this year.
Republicans did not run any candidates for freeholder in 2019 and have none this year.
Engel, a constitutional lawyer, believes the county GOP organization needs functional changes to position itself to help oust Gov. Phil Murphy in next year’s gubernatorial election.
He said Richford “constantly tries to interfere with local party affairs.”
If he wins, Engel has pledged to rewrite party by-laws to give control of local party matters to the municipal chair.
“County chairs should not be dictators,” he said.