As Chris Christie mulls a second bid for the Republican presidential nomination in 2024, he’ll need to contend with an old rival who is now a GOP county chairman in New Hampshire.
Rick Merkt, who served six terms as an New Jersey assemblyman and now a New Hampshire resident, was elected Cheshire County Republican Chairman this morning.
Merkt and Christie have some history.
As a first time candidate for assemblyman in 1995, Merkt ran on a slate with Christie, who at the time had served just a few months on the Morris County Board of Freeholders. They lost the GOP primary to Anthony R. Bucco and Michael Patrick Carroll. Christie came in fourth in that primary
When Bucco left to challenge State Sen. Gordon MacInnes in 1997, Merkt won the 25th district seat in 1997. He narrowly defeated John Inglesino, then the mayor of Rockaway Township.
Merkt was among the first New Jersey Republicans to stand up to Christie. In 2009, he gave up his State Assembly seat to challenge Christie in the GOP gubernatorial primary.
That put two candidates from Mendham Township in the race.
Christie finished sixth in the 2016 New Hampshire primary with just 7.4% of the vote, a showing that forced him to drop out of the race on the following day.
In Cheshire County, Christine received only 5.6% of the vote – about 2 points below where he was in the statewide tally.
Since moving to New Hampshire, Merkt has become politically active in a state that holds the first-in-the-nation presidential primary.
In addition to serving as county chairman, he is also a Republican State Committeeman.
“Richard Merkt is an experienced and energetic leader, with a superb background in business management and government,” said Marilyn Huston, who gave up the county chair post and endorsed Merkt. “He will continue our efforts to strengthen the Cheshire County Republican Committee and make our Committee a powerful advocate for Cheshire County’s economic growth.”
In 2011, Merkt was appointed to fill a seat on the Mendham Township Committee and served until his resignation in 2014 to become the business administrator for Mendham Borough. He was mayor of Mendham in 2013. He started out his career as a deputy state attorney general during the Kean administration, and was a longtime legislative aide to Assemblyman Arthur Albohn.
“Building on the success achieved under our outgoing Chair, the CCRC is setting new goals for 2021 and 2022,” Merkt said. “Our county faces major challenges, including attracting and retaining businesses and jobs. We will focus on these issues, promote core Republican principles of low taxes and smaller government, and put forward a full slate of qualified GOP candidates for state and local elected offices.”