Monmouth County Democrats have picked Josh Welle to take on 19-term Republican congressman Chris Smith.
A political newcomer, Welle defeated former Asbury Park Councilman Jim Keady by a large margin, 114-71, or 62%-38%.
Welle and Keady had been competing to run on the organization line in Monmouth, where 61% of the Democratic primary voters live. The Ocean and Mercer Democratic organizations are widely expected to concur with the Monmouth convention choice.
Smith was first elected to congress in 1980 and is considered the only Republican congressman with a relatively safe seat. If Smith were to lose, it would be only after Democrats pick up the seats of Frank LoBiondo and Rodney Frelinghuysen and oust Tom MacArthur and Leonard Lance. That would flip the New Jersey House delegation top 12-0 Democratic.
Welle is an Annapolis graduate and U.S. Navy veteran who served in Afghanistan. He now runs a software company. He has raised the most money so far.
Keady, had a brush with fame a few years ago when Gov. Chris Christie told him to “sit down and shut up.” He has a strong following among progressive Democrats who supported Bernie Sanders for president in 2016.
The third candidate in the race is Mike Keeling, a teacher and Navy veteran. He dropped out of the convention fight this morning, but remains in the race.
Monmouth Democrats overwhelmingly voted to back U.S. Senator Bob Menendez for re-election.
Correction: An earlier version of this story said that Keeling had dropped out. He only withdrew from consideration at the convention and remains in the race.