The possibility of an Aura Dunn vs. Lisa Bhimani campaign for State Assembly in the 25th district this year means a match-up of two candidates who lost their first campaigns for public office.
That’s the way politics works in Morris County, where there is a long history of running once and losing before launching a long and successful political career.
Sometimes the rebels become the establishment in a county that obscures the “when did we become such an unforgiving people” mantra.
Then a political unknown, State Sen. Joseph Pennacchio (R-Montville) challenged Rep. Dean Gallo (R-Parsippany) in the 1994 congressional primary and won just 27%.
Pennacchio immediately began mending fences. He became a member of the Morris GOP finance committee and got a slot as an aide to Gallo’s friend and business partner, Assemblyman Alex DeCroce (R-Parsippany).
In 1998, Pennacchio ran for Morris County freeholder and won a fourteen-candidate Republican primary. He defeated former freeholder Jack O’Keeffe, who had lost his seat the previous year when he ran on Chris Christie’s ticket, by 333 votes.
From there, Pennacchio’s political career was on an upward trajectory. When Assemblywoman Carol Murphy (R-Montville) resigned to join the state Board of Public Utilities in 2001, Pennacchio won a special election convention to succeed her. He defeated Kinnelon Councilman Larry Casha, 146 to 110, with nine votes for Riverdale Mayor Michael Dedio, a former freeholder.
By the time State Sen. Bob Martin (R-Morris Plains) retired in 2007, no Republicans even bothered to challenge Pennacchio in the primary.
Pennacchio wasn’t the only one to comeback from a loss.
State Senator Anthony Bucco (R-Boonton) won a State Assembly seat in 1995 after losing two Republican primaries for Morris County freeholder.
When Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-Harding) left the legislature to become a congressman in January 1995, Bucco won a special election convention by 30 votes, 146 to 116, over Morris Township mayor Rick Watson.
In 1989, DeCroce resigned from the freeholder board after winning a race for the State Assembly. Bucco sought appointment to the vacant freeholder seat; in those days, freeholder vacancies were still filled by the Board of Freeholders.
More than twenty Republicans sought DeCroce’s freeholder seat. Bucco got two votes on the first ballot and then four on the second ballot against former Chatham mayor Jacqueline Marvin.
When Bucco ran for a full term that year, he won the Republican primary by a narrow 800 votes against former East Hanover Township Committeeman Anthony Crecco.
Bucco sought re-election in 1992 but lost. He finished fifth in the Republican primary.
In 1993, Bucco ran again for freeholder when incumbent Patric Hyland retired. He lost to Chatham township committeeman John Eckert by 1,709 votes.
Assemblyman Jay Webber (R-Morris Plains) challenged Martin in the 2003 State Senate primary and won 42%. Four years later, he won Pennacchio’s Assembly seat after defeating Casha by 1,310 votes in the primary.
Michael Patrick Carroll (R-Morris Township) challenged incumbents Frelinghuysen and Arthur Albohn (R-Hanover) in the 1993 State Assembly primary and came within 422 votes of upsetting Albohn.
After Albohn retired two years later, Carroll ran again and outpolled Christie, then a Morris County freeholder by 2,830 votes.
In that same 1995 primary, Richard Merkt (R-Mendham) ran for the Albohn seat and lost to Carroll by 2,671 votes. When Anthony Bucco (R-Boonton) gave up his Assembly seta to run for the State Senate, Merkt captured the GOP nomination by 223 votes against Rockaway Township mayor John Inglesino.
When Pennacchio moved to the Assembly, Inglesino won a special election convention for the open freeholder seat. He beat six other candidates, including Denville councilman Deborah Smith.
Smith eventually won a freeholder seat in 2015.
Freeholder Doug Cabana ran for freeholder in 1997 when Sue Ostergaard resigned to take a job at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. He defeated Randolph mayor Tyrone Barnes 246-153 in a special election convention. The previous year, Cabana lost a convention vote for freeholder by two votes to John Fox.
Frelinghuysen lost GOP primaries for Congress in 1982 and 1990 before finally winning in 1994.
The lose-before-you-win plan started in the early 1970s.
John Dorsey (R-Boonton) lost the 1971 Republican State Assembly primary by 1,479 votes against Albert Merck (R-Mendham), the scion of a pharmaceuticals fortune.
When Assemblywoman Josephine Margetts (R-New Vernon) ran for the Senate in 1973, Dorsey won the Republican primary. He outpolled 26-year-old James Barry (R-New Vernon) by 544 votes. Dorsey and Merck lost the general election.
In 1975, Dorsey and Barry won the GOP Assembly primary – Barry by just 23 votes over Parsippany Township Attorney Alfred Villoresi. The two went on to unseat Democratic incumbents Gordon MacInnes (D-Morris Township) and Rosemarie Totaro (D-Denville).