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Former Ocean County Republican Chairman George Gilmore. (Photo: Kevin Sanders for the New Jersey Globe).

The one time Ocean’s GOP line didn’t hold

In 2005, Murphy won screening committee, Schroeder took convention, and Forrester won the primary

By David Wildstein, February 17 2019 12:03 pm

Ocean County Republican conventions are usually a coronation of the candidate recommended by the screening committee, except for the time it wasn’t.

During the 2005 Republican gubernatorial primary, Ocean County was uncharacteristically full of drama.  Seven candidates competed for the nomination to run against U.S. Senator Jon Corzine in an election that came the year after Jim McGreevey resigned.

The leading candidates were former West Windsor mayor Doug Forrester, who got screwed out of a U.S. Senate seat in 2002, and former Jersey City Mayor Bret Schundler, who won 42% against McGreevey in 2001.

The shocker came in March when Morris County freeholder John Murphy won the recommendation of the screening committee.

George Gilmore, the Ocean County Republican chairman, always runs a tight ship.  Because nothing happens in Ocean without Gilmore’s consent, the Murphy win was viewed as Gilmore sending a signal to Forrester, the establishment candidate, that he was taking Ocean County for granted.

The victory briefly propelled Murphy into the race.  He was a strange pick for Gilmore, who earlier that year tried to convince U.S. Attorney Chris Christie to run.  Murphy had beaten Christie in the 1997 GOP freeholder primary. Christie sued Murphy, who settled the case for an amount that remains sealed.

Bob Schroeder, a local officeholder in Bergen County, had been working Ocean County hard.  He had a beach house in Lavallette and was actively courting party leaders. He even took Gilmore with him to the Super Bowl.   

State Sen. Andrew Ciesla (R-Brick) was with Schroeder.

At the Ocean GOP convention the following week, Schroeder led the first ballot with 72 votes, followed by Murphy (45), Forrester (41) and Schundler (31).  The other contenders — Assemblyman Paul DiGaetano (R-Nutley), former Bogota mayor Steve Lonegan, and former Bergen County freeholder Todd Caliguire — received no votes.

Schundler asked his supporters to back Schroeder on the second ballot.  

Forrester had lost the Bergen GOP convention a week earlier and Schundler wanted to make the case that his main rival for the nomination was tanking.  

Schroeder beat Murphy by a vote of 97 to 47, with Forrester finishing third with 44 votes.

Forrester wound up carrying Ocean County in the June GOP primary by a 37%-27% margin over Schundler.   Schroeder, running on the organization line, finished third with 15% of the vote, and Murphy, who won the recommendation of the screening committee, came in fifth with a mere 6% of the vote — 762 votes behind Lonegan.  

It was the only time in 23 years Gilmore has been the county chairman that the results of the Ocean County Republican screening committee and convention were irrelevant to the outcome of the primary election.

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