Lonegan Signals Republican Free-for-All


Get ready for a Republican free-for-all in northwest New Jersey.

Open legislative seats always draw a crowd of candidates. And in LD-24, we stand to have double the fun. Both Assembly seats are opening up as incumbents Parker Space and Hal Wirths are not seeking reelection. Space made his announcement months ago; Wirths did it just last week.

Parts of Jersey’s northwest are not as solidly-Republican as they once were with now-more competitive Morris County being one example.

But so far at least, the changing times have not encroached upon Sussex County, the heart of LD-24.

The new legislative map moves the district further south into western Morris County. It now includes such places as Roxbury and the Chesters. Under the current map, only Mount Olive is in LD-24.

Such details aside, this is still very dependable GOP terrain, which is why multiple candidates are likely already considering plans to seek the Republican nomination.

Getting the GOP nod here is tantamount to election as the saying goes.

One interesting name already is popping up – Steve Lonegan, who moved to Newton just a few weeks ago.

Yes, this is the same Lonegan who first drew attention about 20 years ago as the mayor of Bogota in Bergen County. Bogota is a pretty small place, but that didn’t stop Lonegan from running for governor – unsuccessfully – in a crowded 2005 GOP primary.

A few years later, he caused a stir by complaining about McDonald’s putting up advertising billboards in Spanish in his hometown. In fact, he called for a boycott of the fast food giant.

That seemed to establish him as the de-facto leader of New Jersey’s Republican right.

Not enamored of Chris Christie, then a GOP star in Jersey, Lonegan ran again for governor in 2009, losing in the primary to Christie. He got almost 45 percent of the vote, a respectable showing against the establishment candidate.

Since then, Lonegan has lost a special Senate election to Cory Booker in 2013 (after the death of Frank Lautenberg) and congressional runs in both CD-3 and CD-5.

It is never good for any candidate to keep running – and losing.

But Sussex County does seem as if it would be a friendly place for Lonegan.

He narrowly beat Christie in Sussex back in 2009 and in the 2013 special election, Lonegan beat Booker in Sussex by nearly 2-1.

And Lonegan is getting some key support.

William Hayden, who was just elected to the county board of commissioners, joined with two others, Franklin Councilman Concetto Formica and Skylands Tea Party President Joe Labarbera, to urge Lonegan to run for Assembly.

In a release, the writers credited Lonegan with building the “modern conservative movement”  in New Jersey, and more relevantly, perhaps, for not being part of the Republican establishment.

“We need new leadership.  But despite all the data giving every indication of a popular ‘Red Wave,’ our party institutions failed to produce one …”

Hayden and his cohorts said they worry that state Republican leaders will respond by trying to become “more like the Democrats.”

That, they point out, is not what Lonegan would do. His supporters said Lonegan is a nationally-respected conservative leader who will  “work like hell to flip the state Senate and Assembly.”

Besides politics, Lonegan has a number of business ventures, including restaurants.

Asked about any Assembly plans he may have, Lonegan said he’d be willing to talk further after Thanksgiving.

He explained that, “Right now, I’m busy fighting bureaucrats in the state government who are trying to micromanage a new advertising campaign that I’m trying to launch for my restaurants.The state government is truly out of control with absurd taxes and regulations. Someone needs to reign them in.”

Hmm  .. that kind of sounds like a campaign speech no?

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