RANDOLPH – Assemblywoman BettyLou DeCroce failed Friday night to get the endorsement of Morris County Republicans for her reelection bid in the 26th Legislative District.
Dumping an incumbent may not have been what some party leaders expected when they altered tradition last month and adopted a “county line” for primaries.
But the votes were the votes.
Christian Barranco, an electrician by trade, secured the second Assembly nomination with 87 votes. DeCroce got 78.
Jay Webber, the district’s other incumbent, got 117. As is his wont, Webber dished up the best “red meat” rhetoric of the night, saying that nowadays a “critical mass” of Democrats simply don’t like America, because they see it only as bigoted and racist.
LD-26 also includes four towns in Essex County – Fairfield, North Caldwell, West Caldwell and Verona – and West Milford in Passaic, but Morris is the biggest piece.
As Republicans gathered at the Meadow Wood Manor in what was in political terms at least a very historic event, the “talk” was that of the two incumbents, DeCroce was the one in trouble. That “talk” proved prescient.
DeCroce, who got to the Assembly after the death of her husband, Alex, in 2012, said in the immediate aftermath of the vote that she was confident of winning a primary.
Her name may have more resonance with primary voters than committee members. Dating back to Alex’ tenure, a “DeCroce” has represented the district in Trenton for more than 30 years.
Told DeCroce remains confident of victory, Barranco said. “I’m sure, I’m sure. But the machine is going to start running.”
Both candidates briefly addressed the convention.
DeCroce said she takes pride in fighting “every day” for the values of her district.
Barranco criticized the Democratic-run state for pandemic restrictions that closed too many businesses and for passing an original bill that trampled on parental rights regarding minors’ use of marijuana and alcohol.
These speeches were probably not that important. Personal alliances and slights probably mean more in a convention.
On that end, we must consider two nasty and anonymous letters condemning DeCroce mailed to committee members in recent weeks. They were by definition, cowardly, but they may have made an impact.
The committee also overwhelmingly endorsed Jack Ciattarelli for governor over Phil Rizzo, who just entered the race last month.
Rizzo portrayed himself as running solidly in the “right lane.” But on this night, that lane veered into a gulley; Ciattarelli won by more than 3-1.
Rizzo also got the only boos of the night when he quipped that, “A vote for Jack is a vote for Phil Murphy.”
Given the fact this was the first-ever endorsement convention, party chair Laura Ali made it a festive event.
The setting was nice – even lavish – and there was a magic show. And then a gentleman channeled Jimi Hendrix and played the national anthem on his guitar.
“What an historic night,” Sen. Anthony M. Bucco said at the start.
Maybe more historic than some would have liked.