Hunterdon County will be New Jersey’s Iowa in 2020.
Hunterdon County Democrats will hold the first-in-the-state open convention to award the organization line for president on Sunday, February 9, according to Democratic county chair Arlene Quiñones Perez.
All 187 members of the Hunterdon County Democratic Committee will serve as delegates to the convention, which will endorse one candidate to head the local ticket in the June 5 Democratic primary.
“These conventions need to be open,” Quiñones Perez told the New Jersey Globe.
Hunterdon, the fourth smallest county in New Jersey, now has the opportunity to be on a statewide stage as presidential campaigns compete for support among rank-and-file county committee members for the first open organization endorsement of the New Jersey primary season.
“Anytime we can be open in the process and give everyone an opportunity to have a say is the only way we can do this,” said Clinton mayor Janice Kovach, the secretary of the New Jersey Democratic State Committee.
Kovach said she is still undecided.
New Jersey Democrats have been wrestling with the challenges of a wide-open presidential election since Cory Booker dropped out on January 13.
The presence of a favorite-son candidate made it easier for Democratic leaders who have been able to sidestep the realities of national politics. Booker had the endorsements of all 21 county chairs in New Jersey and would have been on the organization lines had he remained in the race.
Gov. Phil Murphy said last week that he had no immediate plans to endorse a candidate, freeing up county political organizations to make their own choice on which presidential contender will head their ticket.
Former U.S. Senator Bob Torricelli, who lives in Hunterdon County and once served on the county committee there, said that local Democrats can have a statewide impact by going first in the process.
“It’s a caucus,” Torricelli said. “It’s a ripe county committee for a Sanders versus Warren contest.”
The former senator suggested that Hunterdon is a great starting point for the New Jersey presidential campaign because of the makeup of the county committee that will serve as delegates.
“So little is under control of employment,” he said.
Quiñones Perez is in the process of reaching out to presidential campaigns to inform them of the early vote. She said she will publish rules for the convention and allow each campaign to send a representative and address the convention.
“The convention will be open to the public,” Quiñones Perez said.
Quiñones Perez expects multiple ballots until one candidate is able to win 50% plus one of the votes.
Hunterdon has 26 municipalities, 19 of them with populations of less than 5,000 people.
“County conventions are the future, just as presidential primaries replaced the smoke-filled backroom deals of the 60s,” said Micah Rasmussen, the director of the Rebovich Institute of New Jersey Politics at Rider University. “The forward-thinking county parties that already award ballot lines by convention are on much more solid ground than those that grant them by fiat of the county chair.”
Hunterdon Democrats played a hugely impactful role in the selection of Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-Ringoes) as their candidate for Congress against Rep. Leonard Lance (R-Clinton Township) in 2018.
Malinowski won the organization line against eight Democratic rivals, scoring a pivotal victory in the first vote of the primary season.