This story was updated on July 17, 2020 at 9:04 AM.
Donna Pearson staged a rare off-the-line victory in the Democratic primary for Cumberland County Freeholder.
A former freeholder who has been out of office for nearly seventeen years, Pearson joined an insurgent slate headed by Freeholder Jack Surrency. The Cumberland County Democratic organization had denied Surrency party support for re-election to a second term.
Incumbents Carol Musso and George Castellini were also renominated.
Musso was the top vote-getter with 7,371 votes, followed by Castellini (6,451) and Pearson (6,447).
Pearson narrowly outpolled Millville Commissioner Bruce Cooper, who had been picked by the county Democratic organization to replace Surrency on the line, by 13 votes.
Tracey Wells-Huggins finished fifth with 5,838 votes, and Surrency came in last with 5.390.
There are still 206 potentially curable ballots — those that could be counted if signature defects are fixed — but it’s unlikely that all of them will be returned by voters or that Cooper will win 69% of them.
Surrency alleged that he was dumped from the Democratic organization ticket for showing independence from party leaders. He recruited Pearson and Wells-Huggins to run with him, and the three bracketed with congressional candidate Amy Kennedy.
Kennedy carried Cumberland with 52% of the vote off-the-line in a five-candidate field to pick an opponent for Rep. Jeff Van Drew (R-Dennis).
Now Musso, Castellini and Pearson will face Republicans Victoria Lods, Darwin Cooper, Jr. and Antonio Romeo in November in an election that could determine control of county government.
Democrats have a 6-1 majority and Republicans would need to take all three seats to take over control of the freeholder board.
Republicans think President Donald Trump, who lost Cumberland by 3,318 votes in 2016, can win the county this time – or at least narrow the margin. They believe the presence of party-switching Rep. Jeff Van Drew (R-Dennis) on the ticket gives them an advantage.
It’s not clear if Trump will run better or worse than he did four years ago. Biden spent 36 years in the U.S. Senate representing Delaware, which from a New Jerseyan’s view of the world is just a suburb of Cumberland County.
Van Drew represented a large chunk of Cumberland County in the legislature for seventeen years and carried the county by 20 percentage points in 218.
Lods, a former aide to State Sen. Nicholas Asselta (R-Vineland) until Van Drew unseated him in 2007, is making her third bid for public office in four cycles.
She ran for freeholder in 2018 and finished 2,246 votes behind Surrency. Last year, she came within 1,422 votes of ousting County Clerk Celeste Riley.
Cooper, a conservative activist who worked on Seth Grossman’s campaign against Van Drew two years ago, ran as an independent candidate for freeholder in 2016. Romero just narrowly lost races for Vineland City Council in 2012 and 2016 on a slate with mayoral candidate Robert Romano.
Republicans had a surge in 2019 when Michael Testa, Jr. (R-Vineland), the Cumberland County GOP chairman, won a seat in the State Senate, along with two GOP assemblymen.
Last year, Republican Douglas Albrecht won the open freeholder seat of Joseph Sparacio, also a Republican who did not seek re-election. Democratic incumbent Darlene Barber won the other seat by a margin of just 446 votes over Republican Jeffrey Bordley.
In 2018, Republican U.S. Senate candidate Bob Hugin came with 142 votes of carrying Cumberland in his race against incumbent Bob Menendez.
Cumberland just narrowly went Democratic in 2016, with Barber winning re-election by just 591 votes. Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R-Ventnor) won Cumberland by 7,355 votes (56%-40%) and Hillary Clinton outpolled Trump by 3,318 votes, (51%-45%).
Musso was the mayor of Deerfield before her election to the Board of Freeholders in 2011, and was the top vote-getter in 2017, leading Republican Carman Daddario by 3,050 votes.
Castellini, the son of a former Cumberland County sheriff, was elected in 2017. He finished second in a field of seven candidates, 417 votes behind Musso.