It’s a revival of an old play that opened in 1952: Congressman Charles Eaton (R-Watching) decided to retire and gave Republicans less than four months to find a candidate for his safe seat: all of Somerset and Morris, and northern Middlesex.
Eaton had spent 28 years in the Congress, including a stint as Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. He was getting older (83) and facing a primary challenge from Dover Mayor John Roach.
Somerset County believed the seat belonged to them – but with just 27% of the district, it was a tough sell. Morris had 60% of the primary votes, with the remaining 13% in Middlesex. Morris forged an alliance with Middlesex – a seemingly insurmountable block, except that Morris didn’t have an organization line.
Roach had challenged Eaton in the 1948 Republican primary. This time he had the backing of State Sen. David Young and Morris GOP Chairman Bertram Mott.
Besides Roach, a bunch of Republicans put their name in the mix: Assemblyman Anderson Fowler (R-Peapack-Gladstone); Somerset County Freeholder Director Robert Adams; Rockaway Borough Councilman Arlington Waite; Courier-News reporter Ellis Kirkham; Rahway State Prison Guard James Park; and banker Charles Eaton, Jr., the son of the congressman.
Somerset figured out a path to beat Morris. They recruited Peter H.B. Frelinghuysen, the 36-year-old cousin of former U.S. Senator Joseph Frelinghuysen, who had lived in Raritan. While Frelinghuysen lived in Morris County, he was technically the Somerset Republican organization candidate. Once the field was clear, Eaton endorsed Frelinghuysen.
Then Frelinghuysen made a deal with Middlesex County Prosecutor Babe Eber, a Republican, who in turn cut a deal with Middlesex County Clerk Edward Patten. Patten, a Democrat, designed a ballot that put Frelinghuysen in a column with presidential candidates Dwight Eisenhower and Robert Taft, even though Roach had the support of the Middlesex GOP. Roach went to court, but the judge was Patten’s guy.
Frelinghuysen beat Roach 55%-39%. He won 61% on Somerset, 69% in Middlesex – thanks to Patten hiding Roach’s name on the ballot, Frelinghuysen won nine of the ten north Middlesex towns – and beat Roach in Morris by 1,864 votes (50%-45%).
That’s what happens when you don’t have a line.