The wakeup call for Somerset County Republicans came in 1999, when Democrat Rebecca Perkins came within 4,170 votes of upsetting Republican incumbent Bob Zaborowski in the race for freeholder. Dale Florio was in his sixth year as county chairman and it was at that point that he fully appreciated that Somerset was on the precipice of competitive elections.
When Perkins ran again in 2000, Florio was ready. Boosted by higher turnout in a presidential election – and a county chairman who understood that Luke Gray’s old playbook wasn’t going to carry Somerset Republicans into the 21st century — Republicans won by 9,553 votes.
The success of Florio — and of Al Gaburo, who succeeded Florio as county chairman in 2010 – stands in contrast to Morris County, where Republicans openly worry about whether they have the political and financial infrastructure in place to withstand a national Democratic wave in November.
Despite some close races and changing demographics, Republicans have maintained their 5-0 majority.
Democrats won the county clerk post in 2017, as well as two Assembly seats, and came within 1,489 votes of electing their first freeholder since 1979. Many insiders think Somerset will be the #1 battleground county in 2018, especially with Rep. Leonard Lance in a tough race for re-election.
Now both sides are gearing up. Republicans have almost $100,000 in the bank. That’s more than seven times the warchest of the Morris GOP. Democrats have about $60,000 in what will likely be an expensive race for two seats.
There are now 13,131 more Democrats registered in Somerset than Republicans. Fifteen years ago, Republicans had an edge of 15,707. Somerset has gone Democratic in the last three presidential elections, with Hillary Clinton receiving a massive 20,184-vote plurality. Murphy and Bob Menendez have won Somerset in recent years. Democrats haven’t had control since Lyndon Johnson’s coattails gave it to them in 1964.