By John Celock
Union Township, N.J. – Union County, N.J. Republicans chose to move past the Chris Christie era in backing a state legislator over the lieutenant governor to be New Jersey’s next governor.
County Republicans voted 113-92 to back Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli over Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno Wednesday night. The move comes as the pair continue to duke it out for the endorsements of county parties across the state. The move carries coveted ballot placement in the counties, along with access to organizational support before the June primary. Ciattarelli painted himself as a change candidate and heir to President Donald Trump’s voting base, while Guadagno straddled the line between touting her accomplishments as Christie’s number two and staking out ground independent of the two-term governor.
“There is a pathway to victory,” Ciattareli told delegates about the fall race where many are predicting Democratic frontrunner Phil Murphy will win. “If last fall taught us anything, the Chicago Cubs won the World Series and Donald Trump is the president. Throw out the conventional wisdom”
Ciattarelli and Guadagno both highlighted their experience in local and state government, with Ciattarelli touting that he has tried to be a change agent in local, county and state office. He hinted at frustration in the Democratic-controlled state Legislature, saying he did not go to Trenton to vote on bills to designate state songs or birds.
Guadagno focused on her frequent travel around the state over the last eight years, including her habit of handing out her cell phone number frequently. She focused on her life story growing up poor in Iowa and other Midwestern states and settling in New Jersey after marrying a New Jersey native while working as a federal prosecutor in New York City.
Guadagno touched on adopting her third child and then becoming a stay at home mother and part time law professor for eight years before successfully running for town commissioner in Monmouth Beach in 2005. A former Monmouth County sheriff before being elected lieutenant governor in 2009, Guadagno said what drew her to run for office the first time.
“I got involved in politics in 2005 because they were going to move around a bus stop and that made me mad,” she said. “The last thing you want is to make a former federal organized crime and racketeering prosecutor mad.”
Guadagno and Ciattarelli both stressed the importance of party building. Many Republicans have complained quietly that Christie has ignored local parties around the state during his tenure, as the governor has focused on building his national profile in the run-up to his unsuccessful 2016 presidential campaign.
Guadagno stressed her frequent attendance at local GOP events statewide as lieutenant governor, while Ciattarelli said that he would seek to reach out to new voters around the state, noting he can appeal to independent voters.
“They want to vote for us as do millennials, as do minorities, as do women, as do people of color. We need a new messenger and a new message,” he said. “There is an undercurrent sweeping the nation.”
He also told Union County Republicans that he would work with them to elect a county freeholder. Union County has not elected a Republican to countywide office since 1994.
Ciattarelli touched on a platform that including a desire to rewrite the state’s school funding formula, reduce taxes and reduce regulations. He noted a desire to eliminate capital gains taxes on small business sales, which he said are harming New Jersey’s downtowns and also eliminate local tax reassessments for renovated homes.
Guadagno touched on similar issues, noting that the state needs to rewrite the school funding formula to reduce property taxes. She also said that she wanted to conduct an audit of state government. Guadagno said that the audit idea could bring about savings and efficiencies in state government, noting the results of an audit former Gov. Tom Kean (R) conducted in the 1980s.
Ciattarelli and Guadagno are seeking to take over the party’s mantle after eight years of leadership by Christie. Democratic leaders have united behind retired investment banker Phil Murphy, who brought together party support last year, forcing both Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop and state Senate President Steve Sweeney to abandon their planned gubernatorial campaigns. Murphy, who leads in the polls, does face state Sen. Ray Lesniak, Assemblyman John Wisniewski and former U.S. Treasury Undersecretary Jim Johnson in the primary.
Guadagno relied heavily on her frequent trips to Union County over the last eight years and a local campaign team led by Assemblywoman Nancy Munoz (R-Summit), former Summit Mayor Ellen Dickson and Union County Republican State Committeewoman Dorothy Burger, a Summit resident. Ciattarelli, who had quiet backing from several county GOP leaders, had his Union County campaign team led by former Union County Republican Chairman Phil Morin, a former Cranford mayor, former Kenilworth Council President Kevin Leary Jr., Garwood Councilman Joe Sarno and Peter Kane.
Guadagno has led Ciattarelli in early polling and has gained party support in several heavily GOP counties. But Ciattarelli wins in several counties, including Union could make the primary between the two more competitive as June approaches.
Guadagno, who has served over 500 days as New Jersey’s acting governor during Christie’s absences from the state, said that she believes that she has the background to differ from the two-term incumbent.
“I’m a different kind of Republican and a different kind of leader,” she said.