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TOMS RIVER – As Ocean County Republicans began filling up the convention floor Wednesday night at the Days Hotel, Kate Gibbs paused while making her rounds to observe:
“I think this will be a good night.”
And to be sure, that was the conventional – no silly pun intended – wisdom.
Gibbs, a former Burlington County freeholder, already had won support from the party’s screening committee in her bid to secure the party’s congressional nomination in the Third District and the right to challenge Democrat Andy Kim this fall.
Her opponent for the congressional nod, David Richter, said in a brief conversation before the vote that in the end, “the people” will decide, not party insiders. By “people,” he meant Republican primary voters.
But if Richter was already discounting the sentiments of party insiders and looking a few months ahead, he was most pleasantly surprised.
The convention voted to endorse Richter over Gibbs by eight votes – 68 to 60, thereby giving him the coveted “county line” on the June primary ballot. This was a surprising outcome by just about any account.
And it was hard – at least publicly – to see why it happened.
Every county organization makes its own rules. In Ocean County, I learned, the candidates are not given a chance to address the voting members. So, there is no chance for a candidate to get votes, or change some minds, with inspired oratory. Or lose votes by saying something really stupid.
While that seemed a bit odd to me, party leaders explained that candidates have time to make their case with county committee members prior to the convention. So, after the perfunctory nomination of candidates from the floor, voting began.
In retrospect,. there was a hint that the screening committee’s wishes meant little when the full convention endorsed Hirsh Singh for the GOP Senate nomination; the screening committee had backed Rik Mehta.
Both congressional candidates have some warts – at least politically speaking.
In the run-up to the convention vote, Richter took aim at Gibbs’ past indiscretions, including arrests for drug possession and shoplifting.
The Gibbs’ camp suggested Richer has no real ties to the district, noting that his original plan was to challenge Jeff Van Drew in CD-2. But then Van Drew became a Republicans and Richter moved onto another district.
Surely, these concerns will continue to be raised between now and June, and perhaps raised more vociferously by Kim in the fall.
But all that is for a later day.
Richter, who was allowed to speak after he won, declared that he’s a “fighter” and that he likes an uphill climb. He probably was referring to his convention win.
Then, he offered the crowd some requisite political rhetoric.
“We’ve got to take the gavel out of Nancy Pelosi’s hand.”
As for Gibbs, in a Facebook post she thanked her supporters in Ocean and said she’s prepared to take her campaign “directly to the people in June.”
Yep, so much for the party insiders.