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The Morris County Courthouse in Morristown, New Jersey.

Morris GOP moving toward an organization line for ’21 primary

Meeting set for December 19 to discuss plan

By David Wildstein, December 11 2020 4:59 pm

Morris County Republicans are moving toward an organization line for the first time, the New Jersey Globe has learned.

Morris has the fourth-highest number of registered Republicans in the state, and the creation of a line creates a potential game-changing moment for the 2021 gubernatorial primary.

The county committee is expected to meet on December 19 to debate the merits of a line, sources with direct knowledge told the NJ Globe.

If there is enough of a consensus in support of the plan, which has been percolating for the last few months, the county Republican organization seems ready to hold a vote to amend the by-laws by early January.

The NJ Globe has also learned that part of Morris’ plan is to hold an early convention that would strengthen their statewide role in picking a gubernatorial candidate to run against Gov. Phil Murphy next year.

That potentially forces an early fight for support in Morris between Republican State Chairman Doug Steinhardt and former Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli (R-Hillsborough).

Ciattarelli began rolling out an impressive list of endorsements this week, including Sheriff James Gannon, Assemblywoman BettyLou DeCroce (R-Parsippany), Assemblyman Brian Bergen (R-Denville), County Clerk Ann Grossi, five Republican freeholders, and 17 GOP mayors.

Steinhardt announced his bid for governor this morning.

Morris has 134,340 Republicans – not much less than Bergen (146,444) and Monmouth (139,862) – but their weight in statewide primaries has been diminished over the years by the absence of an organization line.

This year, most Morris Republicans backed Rik Mehta for U.S. Senate, but the absence of a line limited him to an 862-vote win in Morris County, with 35% of the vote.  The line in Ocean County delivered 74% of the vote to their candidate, Hirsh Singh.

In 2017, when most of the party establishment backed then-Lt. Governor Kim Guadagno in the GOP gubernatorial primary, she won Morris by just five points in a primary against Ciattarelli.

A convention could also settle some other possible fights.

In the 26th district, State Sen. Joseph Pennacchio (R-Montville) faces a possible primary challenge from Freeholder Thomas Mastrangelo.  In the same, district, Christian Barranco has said he will challenge the two Assembly incumbents, Jay Webber (R-Morris Plains) and DeCroce.

Three incumbent freeholders – they’ll be county commissioners as of January 1 – have locked up a huge number of endorsements in their bids for re-election.  A convention could further dissuade any challengers for Deborah Smith, John Krickus and Stephen Shaw.

Morris has been one of a handful of counties – including Sussex and Salem – that don’t have lines in GOP primary elections.  Morris County Democrats have had a line for decades.

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