George Herbert Walker Bush, the 41st President of the United States and the last Republican presidential candidate to carry New Jersey, died on Friday night. He was 94.
Bush had strong ties in New Jersey during his long political career. His Yale classmate was Nicholas Brady, who would become the Republican State Committeeman from Somerset County, and one of his close allies during his four years as a congressman from Texas was Rep. Peter Frelinghuysen (R-Harding).
When Bush sought the Republican nomination for governor in 1980, he attracted considerable early financial and political support in New Jersey. Brady was the leading force, along with the parents of future Gov. Christie Todd Whitman: former Republican State Chairman Webster Todd and Republican National Committeewoman Eleanor Schley Todd.
Rep. Millicent Fenwick (R-Bernardsville) was an early Bush supporter, along with former Republican National Committeewoman Katherine Neuberger. Former Senate President Raymond Bateman, the 1977 GOP gubernatorial candidate, was Bush’s state chairman in 1980.
Seventeen Republican county chairmen endorsed Ronald Reagan.
Bush filed petitions to be on the ballot in the New Jersey but dropped out of the race between filing day and the June primary. He received 17% of the vote.
In the general election, Reagan and Bush carried New Jersey by a 52%-39% margin. They won 60% against Walter Mondale and Geraldine Ferraro in 1984.
As vice president, Bush made numerous campaign swings through New Jersey on behalf of GOP candidates.
Despite his eight years as vice president, Bush faced a fight for the 1988 Republican presidential nomination. He was challenged by Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, Rep. Jack Kemp, former Secretary of State Alexander Haig, former Delaware Gov. Pete du Pont, and Rev. Pat Robertson.
Initially, many New Jersey Republicans stayed out of the race since Gov. Thomas Kean was considered a potential candidate.
Rep. Dean Gallo (R-Parsippany) was the first major New Jersey elected official to endorse Bush. New Jersey Turnpike Authority chairman Bo Sullivan, who had sought the GOP gubernatorial nomination in 1988, was Bush’s New Jersey Finance Chairman.
The race was over by the filing deadline and Bush ran unopposed in the Republican primary.
In the general election, Bush won New Jersey by 422,840 votes, defeating Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis with 56%.
Bush carried eighteen counties, losing Essex and Hudson – and Mercer by just 3,336 votes.
In 1992, Bush defeated Pat Buchanan in the New Jersey primary with 83% of the vote.
New Jersey was a battleground state in the 1992 general election – perhaps for the last time.
Bill Clinton won New Jersey by 79,341 votes, a 43%-41% win over Bush. Ross Perot received 15%.
Bush carried 13 of the state’s 21 counties, losing Atlantic, Camden, Cumberland, Essex, Gloucester, Hudson, Mercer and Middlesex.