The race for Rodney Frelinghuysen’s House seat took an incredible turn today with the surprise entrance of a black Republican hedge fund manager and Army Reserve JAG officer who is running as a political outsider with the endorsements of the Essex and Passaic Republican organizations.
The announcement that Antony Ghee will seek the GOP nomination in the 11th district comes one day after Anthony Bucco’s endorsement of Jay Webber – a move widely viewed as clearing the field in the race for an open seat in a district the Republicans have held for 34 years.
Webber comes from Morris County, home to 60% of the Republican primary voters in the district. But Morris has no organization line, and voters in Essex and Hudson, with 32% of the district, traditionally support the establishment choice in GOP primaries. The remaining 8% comes from Sussex, which also has no line.
Democrats have spent months touting their outsider candidates. The front-runner is Mikie Sherrill, a retired U.S. Navy helicopter pilot and former federal prosecutor. She had expected to run against Frelinghuysen, a 12-term incumbent, who unexpectedly announced his retirement last month.
Ghee is viewed by Essex and Passaic Republicans as a better foil to Sherrill – a political newcomer with no record to attack in a district where the GOP has a slight edge.
But Webber, a 45-year-old former Republican State Chairman, remains the front-runner in a GOP primary where conservatives have an outsized influence. He has already announced a finance team and was first out of the gate with key endorsements. He also represents parts of Essex and Passaic in the legislature and grew up in Passaic. Webber won’t be easy to beat.
Other wildcards in the race include trucking company executive Jerry Langer and former Harding Mayor Nicolas Platt – both from Morris County and both with the ability to self-finance their campaigns.
As a political newcomer, Ghee has the luxury of combining a compelling persona story with the absence of a public record to attack. He can talk about being raised by a single mother why his father was in jail, going on to law school and a career in finance, and serving in the military. And he’ll receive considerable attention because of his race: there are only two Back Republicans in Congress and only six have been elected nationally since the 1930’s.