Ronald DeFilippis was elected Morris County Republican Chairman on Tuesday night, defeating Robert Zwigard by a razor-thin four vote margin, 242 to 239.
DeFilippis, a GOP fundraiser and former commissioner of the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission, takes over as the once-premier county Republican organization in the state prepares to battle an increasingly potent Democratic Party.
Zwigard, who managed Sheriff James Gannon’s campaign, had pledged to modernize the GOP, using modern technologies to maximize Republican turnout and voter persuasion. DeFilippis had pitched more of a return to normalcy as he talked about his role in helping Republicans win in past years.
State Sen. Joseph Pennacchio (R-Montville) backed DeFilippis and is now slated to become the new executive director of the county GOP organization. Among the challenges facing Pennacchio: filling a county committee with a vacancy rate of more than 30%.
DeFilippis and Zwigard immediately sought unity in the party after a bitter and close campaign.
The election also marks the return of Guy Gregg, a former seven-term Assemblyman who has been out of office since losing a GOP State Senate primary eleven years ago. Gregg is the new Sergeant-At-Arms of the Morris County GOP.
The county Republican organization had cash-on-hand of $13,956 as of their last reporting period in March, along with a $10,000 debt in the form of a loan from DeFilippis. The new chairman has not yet said if he would forgive the loan. Zwigard and others criticized DeFilippis for a winter fundraiser at Trump National in Bedminster that paid Fox News personality Greg Gutfeld a $30,000 speaking fee.
Morris County has 33,735 more Republicans than Democrats. That’s down from 41,912 a decade ago.
In 2017, Democrat Phil Murphy won 46% of the vote in Morris County, an 11,696-vote margin. Twenty years earlier, Republican Christine Todd Whitman carried Morris by more than 56,000 votes. Republicans lost nearly two dozen local seats last year, including the prized Parsippany mayoral post, and State Sen. Anthony Bucco (R-Boonton) won his seventh term with just 52%.
Morris County Democratic Chairman Chip Robinson, who was re-elected on Tuesday, is making a play to win countywide offices this fall. Democrats have not won a county race in 45 years.
Democrats are looking to pick up two congressional seats in Morris County this fall: the 7th, where five-term Rep. Leonard Lance (R-Clinton) faces former Assistant U.S. Secretary of State Tom Malinowski; and the 11th, where Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-Harding) is retiring after 24 years in Congress. The GOP has nominated Assemblyman Jay Webber (R-Morris Plains), who will face off against Democrat Mikie Sherrill, a former U.S. Navy helicopter pilot and ex-federal prosecutor.
If Lance and Webber lose, Morris County would be without Republican representation in Congress for the first time since 1910. DeFilippis had made holding the Frelinghuysen seat a top priority in his race for chairman.
Patti Page, who became county chair in 2016 when John Sette retired, did not seek election to a full two-year term.