Steinhardt Drops out of Gubernatorial Contest

Steinhardt

A casualty of the January 6th madness on Capitol Hill provoked by the leader of his party, Doug Steinhardt, former GOP chairman and one of President Donald J. Trump’s most vocal supporters in the Garden State, aborted his bid for the governorship of New Jersey.

Steinhardt launched his gubernatorial campaign as an avowed and unapologetic backer of Trump, who incited the riots at the U.S. Capitol and faces the prospect of a second impeachment. But tonight, a day after the still NJ-establishment-relevant former Governor Chris Christie said he backs Trump’s impeachment, the former state party chair backed down, sparing himself – and his professional associates – the unenviable position of defending the indefensible.

The New Jersey Republican’s chief campaign adviser as he set out on a doomed candidacy was Bill

Stepien
Longtime Christie affiliate Stepien.

Stepien, Trump’s political minder. The associations looked tough to begin with, but unimaginably difficult after last week’s insurrection, which left five people dead, including a Capitol Hill police officer who grew up in New Jersey.

Moreover, Steinhardt is a law partner of former Democratic Governor James Florio, which evidently caused further consternation and complications. There were other problems, too.

“Last month I was thrilled to announce our campaign for Governor, and the positive response from grassroots activists and donors has been overwhelming,” Steinhardt said in a statement. “While our strong standing in this race makes this decision even more heartbreaking, unfortunately, unforeseen professional obligations have made it untenable for me to continue in this race as a candidate for Governor.

“To everyone who supported our campaign, thank you. Your message was heard loud and clear, and you do have a voice. Together we will rise above, and we will ultimately Take Back New Jersey.”

The inevitable statements appeared in the aftermath with little fanfare.

Former Governor Jim Florio.
Trouble in Paradise. Steinhardt’s law partner, former Governor Jim Florio.

“I want to thank Doug for being involved in this primary and now is the time for the party to coalesce around Jack Ciattarelli,” said Al Gaburo, a close ally and adviser of Jack Ciattarelli, a former LD16 Assemblyman who remains in the GOP Primary for governor, along with engineer Hirsh Singh (who’s run unsuccessfully for governor, Congress and U.S. Senate since 2017) and former gubernatorial candidate Joe Rullo. Former Somerset County Freeholder Brian Levine began 2021 mulling a GOP Primary candidacy of his own.

Governor Phil Murphy’s reelection campaign also issued a statement.

“While Doug Steinhardt is exiting the race for Governor, the other Republicans still vying for their party’s nomination share his total support for President Trump and his embrace of Trump’s disastrous policies that are continuing to hurt New Jerseyans,” said Campaign Manager Mollie Binotto. “Just last week, Jack Ciattarelli responded to the insurrection of the U.S. Capitol by channeling Trump’s infamous ‘both sides’ defense of white supremacists in Charlottesville, completely failing to place the blame on Trump, his enablers, and his followers. Ciattarelli refuses to stand up to Trump just like he declined to ever say no to Chris Christie when he was in the Assembly. New Jersey voters won’t go back — not after the shameful direction Governor Christie, President Trump, and Republican leadership have taken.”

For his part, Rullo offered the following:

“Doug Steinhardt just dropped out. Now its us versus Rino NeverTrumper Jack Ciaterelli!  The

Rullo

Republicans in NJ have an opportunity to send a message of principal that we are done with fake Rino Republicans.”

On Monday night, it remained to be seen whether the exit of Steinhardt would summon forth a self funder candidate to which the shrunken fortunes of Trump world and its New Jersey counterparts could affix. The name of  big pharma exec Bob Hugin – who lost to Senator Bob Menendez in 2018  and failed in an attempt to succeed Steinhardt as party chairman – continued to surface.

Or someone like him, with deep pockets and, presumably and ideally, no vast public record of unashamedly backing the tanking Trump.

As the news of Steinhardt’s departure whirled down the drain of the New Jersey political establishment, questions cropped about where Christie and his ally, Bill Palatucci, would emerge on the endorsement landscape.

Christie didn’t like Ciattarelli in 2017, when the upstart out of Somerset County essentially ran against the outgoing governor’s record in his unsuccessful opposition to Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno.

Gaburo
Scrappy former Somerset County GOP Chairman Al Gaburo, left.

But would the ire of the notoriously grudge-nursing ex guv persist from that distant season to the point of him going out of his way with Palatucci to diabolically prop a body in front of Ciattarelli just for the sake of derailing him?

“Bill  and Chris are really good friends of mine ,” said Gaburo. “I supported Chris for president in 2016 and it is I’ll likely support him when he runs again. That said, I don’t know where Bill and Chris are but what I do know is Doug decided to get out of the race. No one can deny my friendship with Doug. I was with him four years ago. I opposed Kim’s stance on Doug at the time. I thought Doug was the right person for chairman at the time and a good person. I totally accept the reasons why he is out of this race; that said, the party needs to get behind Jack. He’s the right candidate for the time. If we have any opportunity to elect a Republican governor, this is the time, and Jack is the candidate.”

Former EPA Regional Administrator Alan J. Steinberg argues that there is hope for the New Jersey Republican Party to capture the governorship in 2021 if former Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli is the nominee, provided he can overcome the anti-Republican landscape prevailing in the Garden State.
Will the GOP wagons circle around Ciattarelli, or will Steinhardt’s exit summon forth a deep pocketed alternative?
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