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Jon Bramnick of LD21 has served as the Republican leader since 2012, when he assumed the position after the death of Assemblyman Alex DeCroce. While most insiders assume Bramnick will prevail this year in a low-turnout but difficult election year, they inevitably speculate about what would happen if he loses.
Bramnick out of office would require Republicans to pick another leader of what is now a 26-member caucus.
Who would stand the best chance of succeeding him?
Sources generally advance two names right away: Assemblyman Tony Bucco, Jr. (R-25) and Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi (R-39).
Schooled in party politics his whole life, the son of state Senator Tony Bucco, Sr.’s (R-25) been Bramnick’s trusted right hand for years.
He has a case to make based on temperament and time spent.
For her part, Schepisi is seen by party members as a rising star who’s unafraid to speak her mind, who could benefit a wobbly, post-Chris Christie, Trump-era GOP as it searches for the best brand name to advance against Democrats (presumably incumbent Governor Phil Murphy) in 2021.
“We need women,” one source groaned earlier this year, when the party opted for a male instead of a female contender in a contested district.
But like Bramnick in LD21, both Bucco and Schepsi themselves occupy 2019 battleground districts. Neither appears to be a sure bet this year. Bucco in particular for the first time appears to have a tough November general election in front of him.
Schepisi’s a less prioritized Democratic Party target. Still, the district’s doable.
In such an environment, if – for the sake of argument – Bramnick goes down, might Republicans lean on someone in a safer district than LD25 or LD39 who can make the case for GOP values without having to worry about losing a 2021 general election?
In that context, Assemblyman John DiMaio (R-23) is another circulating name, who, on the strength of occupying a safer, leafier Republican district (the home district, in fact, of Republican State Party Chairman Doug Steinhardt), would be able to differentiate himself from Bramnick, Bucco, and Schepisi, who in addition to staring down their Democratic rivals at the ballot box in a few weeks, have the challenge of proving power, one above the other, with the margins of their respective November elections over Democrats.