Ciattarelli Defeats Guadagno in Impassioned Middlesex, as Elbows Sharpen in GOP Jack v. Kim Primary



OLD BRIDGE -Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli (R-16) beat Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno for the line here this morning.

The win lost some buoyancy with the almost simultaneous news that Guadagno destroyed Ciattarelli in Atlantic County. Down south, the LG received 917 votes in Atlantic County to Hirsh Singh’s 100 some. Ciattarelli didn’t register.

But the assemblyman registered here in Old Bridge, pop. 66,000.

Ciattarelli won Middlesex (170K registered Ds to 58k registered Rs) by an almost 2-1 margin.

The final tally: Ciattarelli 331; Guadagno 170.

Back-fighting characterized the contest, and it boiled over at the convention with speeches by the principals that did not pull punches in front of a crowd that demanded more than just a pulse from their candidates for office.

“I would have thought you’d be gracious,” Ciattarelli Campaign Manager Rick Rosenberg said in victory, as he resisted what he detected as Middlesex County GOP Chair Lucille Panos’ reluctance to give the microphone to the assemblyman for an endzone dance.

“You mean ‘gracious,’ the way you were to me?” Panos shot back.

She did give the microphone to Ciattarelli, whose supporters had seethed throughout about what they said was the chair’s 11th hour effort to change the rules governing the convention.

It was one encounter, but symptomatic of many – and of the totality.

Never has so much passion galvanized so many, with such fervor and attention to detail, right down to the buttons and flags and Uncle Sam hats, in the service of a party where the opposition absolutely dominates county government.

You can say they don’t have a freeholder.

You can say they are the New Jersey political equivalent of the Myth of Sisyphus, with a bunch of people repeatedly rolling a boulder up a hill.

You can point to the burial ground of guys who have run against state Senator Bob Smith, among them Somerset County Freeholder Brian Levine, who was here.

Just don’t ever say the Middlesex GOP doesn’t love politics.

“This thing is so rigged, it’s unbelievable,” Joe Rullo (who ended up with ten votes) exclaimed, when ruled out of order in an attempt to replicate Liddy Dole’s delivery of a speech from the carpet in the auditorium rather than the stage.

“Rigged!’ Rigged!” he protested.


That’s fine.

His opinion.

Boos sounded as he mounted the stage.

Some claps answered in return.

Just don’t say the Republicans here – 800 strong in the room for this convention – lack passion.

Middlesex County GOP Chair Panos – and those forces apparently lining up against her – packed the venue here at Old Bridge High School, a teeming and tumultuous hoard of party diehards from all the towns: the names taped to chairs in the rows of seats like medieval heraldry in a pre-war mead hall: Edison, Perth Amboy, East Brunswick, New Brunswick, Carteret, Cranbury, Monroe, Spotswood.

“This is democracy in action, it doesn’t get any better than this,” said Guadagno in a red, white and blue scarf, her name put up this morning by Sayreville Mayor Kennedy O’Brien.

She climbed out a black SUV and addressed the crowd after having come up from Atlantic.

“This election is not about Republicans. It’s about a Democrat who’s been kinged and knighted,” said the LG. “We need to come together to get rid of Phil Murphy. He is a dangerous person to all of us and all of our pocketbooks. Your opponent would have you believe I’m all about platitudes.”

That was the last time she mentioned Murphy, as she proceeded to make the case that what she stands for is not a platitude but a record – in defiance of her Republican party rival, who moments earlier had dismissed her campaign as shallow.

“Not a platitude, a record,” the LG argued.

“What I have done for you in Middlesex County is not a platitude, it’s a record,” she said. “I don’t have to stand up and scream about it.”

Then the LG went right after Ciattarelli, calling him out by name and trashing him.

“He voted for expanding the sales tax,” she said. “He voted for the gas tax. Those are the last six years in Trenton. I’ll put my record up against Jack Ciattarelli’s six failed years in Trenton.”

Attorney Don Katz dutifully read the rules to a room engulfed in a low roar of utter indifference to detail.

He dropped the gavel on the podium and hammered.

“I read through the rules but there are some you actually want to know about,” Katz said. “Come on. I know I’m not a candidate for governor but I do need a little bit of time.”

LD17 challenger Daryl Kipnis held court with an enthusiastic entourage of backers weighed down by Kipnis paraphernalia.

Nutley Commissioner Steve Rogers (36 votes finally) was here.

Like Rullo, he showed up to this in hopes of the populist circus transferring to his long-shot candidacy.

“I’ve been up and down this state,” he declared, where he identifies the same passion.

But it wasn’t enough this morning.

Not for him.

Not for Rullo.

Not for Guadagno.

From the stage with his wife Melinda at his side, Ciattarelli spoke like the nominee.

“I married up,” he cracked.

In this contest, he has a long way to go. Guadagno stills leads him in the race for county lines. Ciattarelli has Somerset, Essex, Burlington, Union, Mercer and now Middlesex. Guadagno has now earned the official Republican Party line or slogan in Atlantic, Bergen, Camden, Cape May, Cumberland, Gloucester, Hudson, Monmouth, Morris, Ocean, Passaic, Salem and Warren.

But Ciatarelli appears to be chipping away. He had a fundraiser this past week that puts him over the top for public matching funds, and from the stage he boasted of a projected win in another county next week.

The other big contest here – maybe the biggest – was the senate race in LD12: Senator Sam Thompson v. challenger Art Haney, the former mayor of Old Bridge.

Haney would win, 147 to 71.

He reminded the crowd that he built the local library here, in the only Middlesex town in the 12th district.

“We need a government that’s on top of our infrastructure,” the challenger said. “It’s time for change in Trenton. …I can tell you that down there, my voice will be heard. It’s no excuse to be in the minority. We’re not going to stand in line until we have the right opportunity to vote.

“With Jack Ciattarelli as governor, we will have the opportunity to bring in a new government in Trenton,” he added.

Chants of “drain the swamp, drain the swamp, drain the swamp” finally yielded to cries of “Let’s go Art, let’s go Art, let’s go Art!”

Thompson went to the microphone.

He occupies a special place here as the only Republican elected above the local level from Middlesex County.

“I am a proven winner,” he said, referring to his victories in the district both before and after redistricting removed other Middlesex towns from his domain.

“I and my running mates have always been there for you and we always will be,” he added.

Groans and murmurs from Haney backers fought cheers as the senator spoke before Thompson finished after five and the cheers prevailed.

The convention ended with tabulation of delegate votes, but the crowd looked like it could dig in for the weekend.

“I’m prouder to be here than eating ravioli at the White House,” Panos said.


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