Gene Anagnos is running for U.S. Senate with a dream, no money and few ways to reach voters.
The retired teacher is gunning for the Republican nod to take on U.S. Sen. Cory Booker in November, banking that his time at inner-city schools will secure support from Black and Latino voters who typically vote for Democrats.
“I’m the only candidate that can defeat Sen. Booker, because I believe I can siphon off from his base. I really can,” Anagnos said. “Not only would I be willing to campaign in Elizabeth, Newark, Camden, Irvington, etc. I taught at George Washington Carver [Elementary School] right off of Lyons Avenue, about the border in Irvington, for almost 10 years.”
The unabashedly pro-Trump Republican faces four others in the GOP primary.
Chief among Anagnos opponents are Rik Mehta and Hirsh Singh. Natalie Rivera and Tricia Flanagan, who ran for U.S. Senate as an independent in 2018, are also seeking the GOP nod.
Mehta has won support from most of the state’s Republican County organizations — those in Burlington, Camden, Gloucester, Hudson, Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex, Monmouth, Passaic, Salem, Somerset, Union and Warren counties.
Singh has lines in Ocean, Atlantic and Cumberland Counties.
Anagnos did not seek those organizational lines.
He said he was dissuaded from doing so by what he saw as party officials’ belief that the race against Booker was already lost.
“I saw a couple of middle-aged ladies were getting stuff ready, and when I was explaining to them why I was there, I didn’t see any type of enthusiasm in them as far thinking the Republicans have any shot of winning on that type of a level,” Anagnos said, recounting an encounter that happened before a State of the Union viewing party in Morris County. “It seems to me they’re more interested in funding — fundraising — their get-togethers.”
Fundraising isn’t where Anagnos’ interest lies.
The tri-lingual Greek immigrant has raised just $405 for his surprise campaign, which he said was already in the red.
“I’ve spent more money travelling in gas and paying the $20 [bank] fee every month than the $415 I received, and which was mostly from my family,” he said.
That leaves the candidate in a bad spot amid a pandemic that has shuttered in-person voter contact.
Anagnos said he gathered signatures for his nominating petitions outside of gun ranges and in the crowd at a rally President Donald Trump held in Wildwood for Rep. Jeff Van Drew in January.
Now, gun ranges are closed, and all gatherings have been banned in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19.
State officials have said those restrictions won’t be lifted until at least may, and it’s possible social distancing policies will continue into the summer months, past the June 2 primary.
In the absence of money, Anagnos is relying on his own social media following to carry him through the primary.
“I’m online all the time. I am on Twitter. I am on Facebook,” he said. “People are responding to my candidacy.”
Anagnos has a personal Facebook page — on which he railed at acquaintances who did not take time to electronically sign his nominating petitions — and a Twitter page with a little less than 2,200 followers.
The candidate said he met some consultants while he was making rounds at local Republican clubs, but he has yet to bring on a campaign team and has not filed with the Federal Election Commission.