Essex County Republican Chairman Al Barlas has positioned himself as one of the most powerful people in the race to succeed Rodney Frelinghuysen in Congress. His alliance with Passaic County’s Peter Murphy means that the road to the Republican nomination runs through the two counties. That means in lineless Morris, where the field of prospective congressional candidates seems to be growing, the support of the Barlas/Murphy block could be critical.
Some insiders have mentioned State Sen. Kristin Corrado (R-Totowa) as a potential candidate, especially with some pundits suggesting that the Republicans should run a woman in the suddenly competitive 11th district. The two leading Democratic candidates are women: Tamara Harris and Mikie Sherrill. Republican National Committeeman Bill Palatucci has been schilling for Trump appointee Christine Myers, a Morris County Freeholder, and sources say that former Gov. Chris Christie spoke with Myers on Monday and told her she should run.
One fascinating scenario for the GOP to consider would be to run Barlas himself. He has a compelling story as a self-made man who was born in Pakistan and came to the United States at an early age. Barlas would be the first Muslim Republican to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives – a point that would create national interest during President Donald Trump’s mid-term election. In a New York media market driven Congressional District 11, the thought of that storyline practically writes its own earned media headlines.
Barlas is also a seasoned political strategist who served as chief of staff to State Sen. Kevin O’Toole and then Corrado. In 2016, he had skillfully been able to challenge then-candidate Trump’s Muslim travel ban while remaining loyal to his party. That kind of dexterity could help him navigate the confusion of the 2018 cycle.
While the idea of a Muslim Republican running for Congress in Donald Trump’s GOP is fascinating, let alone succeeding a Frelinghuysen, it’s probably unlikely. Some people think being a county chairman is a better gig than being a Congressman.
One quick story: after Robert Kean, the father of the former governor and grandfather of the current Senate Minority Leader, finished twenty years of service in Congress with a run for the U.S. Senate, he came back to Livingston – and this is exactly how he put it to me more than forty years ago – to run for higher office: Essex County Republican Chairman.