The Post-Christie Frenzy in Competitive LD26 GOP Primary: Cesaro Goes After DeCroce
Because it invokes Governor Chris Christie in a negative light, an LD26 mailer by the John Cesaro for Assembly campaign surprised close allies of Assemblywoman Betty Lou DeCroce (R-26), who have long viewed Cesaro as an ally. But then again, the race had already turned grimly ugly. In a sense, the attack line defines political life in Morris County in a post-Christie universe.
A hallowed home county figure in the first term of his governorship, Christie in the final months of his second term has turned into a mail piece bulls-eye. His decision to enter the primary on behalf of DeCroce with a fundraiser last month made him appear to be seeking the role of campaign matador one last time, only to find himself a political pinata at the hands of Cesaro and company.
Cesaro’s supporters shrug off the wounded DeCroce by noting that the incumbent assemblywoman attempted to draw first blood with a mail piece that targeted both Cesaro and Freeholder Hank Lyon – and a particularly hurtful attack on Cesaro’s professional record.
Christie’s low job approval rating and advocacy for the .23 cent gas tax hike for estate tax phase-out would appear to provide perfect fodder for challengers in a fierce GOP Primary. But in Morris County, where he once served as a freeholder, he has loyal allies, among them DeCroce and former Morris County Republican Chairman John Sette.
Cesaro wants the seat currently occupied by DeCroce, who voted in favor of the Christie-championed gas tax deal in order to replenish the depleted state Transportation Trust Fund (TTF). The mail piece his campaign unleashed on her features DeCroce done up like a marionette and complying with the union bosses and Christie’s directives.
“Betty ‘Gas Tax’ DeCroce got in line,” the mail piece charges.
The DeCroce-Sette wing of the party remain all-weather Christie supporters, and Cesaro too has always maintained friendly relations with the governor, unlike Assemblyman Jay Webber (R-26), who has a bitter history with the governor and his minions. A movement conservative with his own base, Webber – a former state Republican Party chairman whom the Christie faction concluded to be too smart for the job – opposed the gas tax.
Fellow movement conservative Lyon jumped into the GOP Primary contest and promptly slapped DeCroce for backing the gas tax.
Given the Christie ties and history and his own pragmatic record, Cesaro would appear to be a more natural ally of fellow Parsippany resident DeCroce, but the gas tax, Lyon’s ferocious presence in the race, and the shriveling up of the Christie era, changed a potential friendly rivalry of footsie into full blown warpaint-wearing negativity.
At least one source speculated on how Christie must have received the mailer – with befuddlement and possibly anger, considering Cesaro’s longstanding loyalty and the overlapping of key friendships and relationships – but the every man for himself swamp rat tactics on all sides really surprised only a handful in what has emerged late as the state’s most competitive GOP Primary.
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