And then there were six.
CD7 Democratic primary candidate Lisa Mandelbatt dropped out of the contest tonight, on stage at the Union County Democratic candidate forum, endorsing candidate Tom Malinowski.
Her departure leaves Linda Weber, Scott Salmon, Peter Jacob, Goutam Jois, Dave Pringle, and Malinowski left to vie for the nomination.
In tears, she said ‘I’m asking my supporters to get behind Tom Malinowski.’ She was showered with boos from the audience, with someone shouting ‘get outta here!’ Mandelbatt has history in Union – she graduated from high school in the very building tonight’s forum was held – and was captain of the cheerleading squad and editor of the school newspaper.
Malinowski rose – in evident surprise at the endorsement – and said ‘believe it or not, I did not know that was coming.’
Mandelblatt’s departure comes as party leaders and rank and file were beginning to express serious concern about the crowded field of candidate, as she becomes the first to bow out. Her endorsement of Malinowski is another sign of movement for the candidate, who over the past week was buoyed by strong fundraising numbers and a Hunterdon convention victory on Sunday. He bested Linda Weber, who has Essex-Somerset support, receiving 96 votes. Mandelblatt, while nominated and seconded, received 0 votes.
Right now – in the immediate aftermath of Mandeblatt’s move – the CD7 race is increasingly a two-candidate contest between Malinowski and Weber, with Malinowski appearing to have momentum on his side, as the Union Democratic Committee forum continued (watch here).
When asked about the difficulty Senator Nick Scutari would have in backing a man for the CD7 seat when the chairman’s contest with Colleen Mahr has, to some degree, become a gender battle, Union County Executive Director Nick Fixmer, a Scutari ally, said, “I’ve seen these stories, and I don’t buy the narrative. People see Leonard Lance as beatable and they want the best person.”
Insiders saw Fixmer squiring around Malinowski in Atlantic City at the League of Municipalities convention back in November. “The fix is in,” an insider muttered.
“It has nothing to do with the chairman’s race,” Scutari Chief of Staff Tony Teixeira told Insider NJ, when nudged on the prospect of a Westfield delegate deal for the chairmanship.
Moments after Mandelbatt had left the stage, candidate David Pringle reminded the crowd that he has no interest in following suit, and slapped hard at Malinowski on stage. “I’m glad Tom showed up at PennEast a couple weeks ago,” he cracked, noting his longstanding opposition to the western New Jersey pipeline.
Weber honed in on the fact that’s she now the lone female of the group, saying in her closing that “you have to have a profile that can win the district. In our local towns, women flipped Republican towns to Democrat [referencing Westfield]. I can beat Leonard Lance. I have roots here.”
During a break, moderator Saily Avelenda (of CD11 fame) had quietly approached Mandelbatt, asking her to leave the stage. She left, amid applause, walking out of the building – and walking away from the CD7 contest – just as a rain-soaked Scutari was walking in. Mahr was already in the room.
“No comment – yet,” the Senator said.
For Mandelblatt, her battle is over. For Mahr and Scutari, it’s just getting started.