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Morris County Freeholder Tayfun Selen. (Photo: Nikita Biryukov for the New Jersey Globe).

What’s at stake in Friday’s Morris County Republican convention

Kean favorite for NJ-7 nod, while NJ-11 is a three-way race

By Joey Fox, March 02 2022 12:47 pm

This Friday, Morris County Republicans will decide who will receive their county line for the 2022 elections, a critical process that may help determine the outcome in two congressional primaries.

In the 7th district, where Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-Ringoes) is fighting for a third term after his district was drawn to be more Republican, former Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean Jr. (R-Westfield) is the favorite to win the county line. Kean has the backing of a number of Morris County Republicans, including State Sen. Anthony M. Bucco (R-Boonton) and Morris County Sheriff Jim Gannon, as well as national Republicans like House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA).

But three other candidates – Assemblyman Erik Peterson (R-Franklin), businessman John Henry Isemann, and 2021 gubernatorial candidate Phil Rizzo – have all garnered some attention for their campaigns. Peterson came within striking distance of Kean at the Hunterdon County party convention and Isemann finished in an unexpectedly strong third place; Rizzo didn’t compete for that party line, but just yesterday received the endorsement of high-profile Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-NC).

Salon owner Robert Trugman, U.S. Navy veteran Sterling Irwin Schwab, and licensed public works contractor Kevin Dorlon are not expected to make significant headway at the convention.

Ultimately, Morris County only represented around 16% of the 7th district’s Republican primary voters in last year’s gubernatorial primary, so even if Kean were to lose the party line in an upset, his campaign would be far from doomed. In fact, that’s true of every county line in the 7th district, which is made up of six different counties, none of which dominate the district overall.

That’s very much not true, however, in the 11th district, which is the state’s true Morris County-based district. Making up about three-quarters of the 11th district’s Republican primary voters last year, Morris County will be critical to the success of the six Republican candidates vying to take on Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-Montclair).

The race is generally regarded as a three-way contest between Morris County Commissioner Tayfun Selen, former assistant Passaic County Prosecutor Paul DeGroot, and former Kinnelon Council President Larry Casha. Selen has gotten a large number of local endorsements in Morris County, which may give him a leg up at the insider-dominated commission, but he struggled to raise money in the 4th quarter and DeGroot won the Passaic County organizational line in January.

Former Ridgefield Park councilman Robert Kovic, attorney Larry Friscia, and U.S. Army veteran Toby Anderson, who are all also running for the nomination, have struggled to gather the money and attention they would need to compete.

Friday’s convention will undoubtedly reshape what has until now been a murky contest – murky in part because the two strongest potential Republican candidates both passed on running – and give 11th district Republicans a clear frontrunner to challenge Sherrill.

Also on the docket for Morris County Republicans are the county sheriff’s office, for which the popular Gannon is uncontested, and three county commissioner seats, one of which is open following incumbent Republican Kathy DeFillippo’s retirement.

The two incumbents who are seeking re-election, Commissioners ​​Douglas Cabana and Tom Mastrangelo, are both backing Pequannock Councilwoman Melissa Florance-Lynch as their running mate, but three other commissioners endorsed Mendham Township Committeewoman Sarah Neibart instead.

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