HARDYSTON – When Josh Aikens stepped to the podium Thursday evening to kickoff his LD-24 campaign the banner behind him read – appropriately enough – Josh Aikens for State Assembly.
But a few minutes later there was a change.
Working with the alacrity of Broadway stagehands, volunteers tore away the original banner and replaced it with one boosting the candidacies of Aikens and Sarnoski.
That would be Jason Sarnoski, a county commissioner in Warren County.
So there you have it, the team of Aikens-Sarnoski is now in the race for the two Republican Assembly nominations in LD-24, which covers Sussex, and parts of Morris and Warren counties.
The seats are open. Assemblyman Hal Wirths is leaving office and his partner, Parker Space, is running for the Senate where incumbent Steve Oroho is not running for reelection.
The newly minted Aikens-Sarnoski partnership faces another coupling in the race – that of Dawn Fantasia, a Sussex commissioner, and Mike Inganamort, the mayor of Chester Township.
Also in the Assembly race are Robert Kovic, who ran unsuccessfully last year for the party’s CD-11 nod, and Enrico Fioranelli, a political newcomer from Roxbury.
And the recently-relocated to Newton Steve Lonegan, a well-known figure in New Jersey conservative circles, may also run for Assembly. Or he may run for the Senate.
The flurry of candidates – and there may be more to come – is to be expected. Open legislative seats are rare and in this case, we have three of them.
Not only that, in this very “red” region, Democrats really are not a factor. Winning the primary as the old saying goes, is tantamount to election.
What began as merely an Aikens kickoff at the Crystal Springs resort attracted close to 150 people and featured endorsements from Frank Pallotta, the party’s CD-5 candidate the last two cycles and Phil Rizzo, who ran for governor in 2021.
Rizzo credited Aikens for leading the fight to get conservatives elected to school boards throughout New Jersey and urged Republican voters to jump “on a train that is already barreling down the track.”
When he spoke, Aikens, the president of the Lafayette Board of Education, had the region’s Republican leanings in mind. He said the time has come to “take this part of the state and expand it.”
One of the perennial arguments in GOP primaries is always over which side is the most conservative.
Sarnoski certainly had that in mind when he said he and Aikens are the “real conservatives” in the race.
The team of Fantasia and Inganamort recently stressed their support for such outdoor activities as hunting and fishing. This was accompanied by photos of the candidates holding a firearm and a fish
Sarnoski was not impressed, telling the audience that such stunts do not make you a genuine conservative.