The final convention in the race for the GOP nomination for Congress in New Jersey’s 7th district will be held on Tuesday night in Somerset County.
The front-runner, former Senate Minority Leader Thomas Kean, Jr. (R-Westfield), faces three challengers, including Assemblyman Erik Peterson (R-Franklin), whose has represented parts of Somerset County in the legislature for the last decade; Bedminster, Bridgewater, Peapack-Gladstone and Raritan are in the 7th.
John Henry Isemann, a 27-year-old who gave up his Wall Street job to head up a humanitarian mission in Central America, has connected with county committee voters in his first run for office. He scored a solid third-place finish in Hunterdon and forced Kean into a runoff in Morris – an organization line Kean won by a 2-1 margin one week later.
Phil Rizzo, a former pastor and real estate developer who ran for governor last year, has barely registered at GOP conventions. Salon owner Rob Trugman, U.S. Navy veteran Sterling Irwin Schwab, and licensed public works contractor Kevin Dorlon are also in the race.
Republicans are also awarding the organization line for Congress in the 12th district, where Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (R-Ewing) is seeking her fifth term. The leading candidate is Darius Mayfield, who won the recommendation of the Middlesex GOP screening committee last week. Mayfield faces Nick Catucci, a film producer who wants to “defund evil.”
Two Republicans are seeking part support to challenge County Commissioner Melonie Marano in the fall: Watchung school board member Amber Murad and former Bound Brook Councilman John-Paul Levin.
Murad and Levin ran for county commissioner in 2021. Murad received 184 votes and Bridgewater Councilman Michael Kirsh defeated Levin by six votes, 153 to 147.
In the general election, Murad came within 2,065 votes of ousting Democratic incumbent Sara Sooy.
Two other countywide candidates are running unopposed for the organization line: Manville Councilwoman Suzanne Maeder wants to take on County Clerk Steven Peter; and retired Hillsborough police detective John Sheridan is challenging Sheriff Darrin Russo.
Somerset has become a Democratic-leaning county over the last five years and all three Democratic incumbents are seeking re-election to their second terms. But races in Somerset are still competitive and Republicans view Joe Biden’s mid-term elections, with Gov. Phil Murphy’s favorables taking a little bit of a downturn, as their opportunity to regain a foothold.
Peters was elected in 2017 when he ousted GOP county clerk Brett Radi by 407 votes, 50.3%-49.7%.
Russo defeated North Plainfield Police Chief Bill Parenti in 2019 by 3,131 votes, 52%48%.
Also in 2019, Marano unseated four-term Republican Freeholder Patricia Walsh by 856 votes, 50.6%-49.4%. The race was a rematch of the 2007 freeholder campaign, when Walsh defeated Marano by a narrow 1,867-vote margin, 51.5%-49.5%.
Somerset Democrats began their ascent with Peters’ election in 2017, followed by the election of Shanel Robinson and Sooy to the Board of Freeholders in 2018. The defeat of Republican incumbents Mark Caliguire and Patrick Scaglione in the 2018 freeholder race, gave Democrats their first wins since Michael Ceponis was elected in 1979.
The election of Marano gave Democrats their first majority since the Lyndon Johnson was president in 1965.
The last-standing Republican freeholders, Brian Gallagher and Brian Levine, were unseated in 2020.