BRANCHBURG – Tonight as the crowds swelled outside, InsiderNJ asked U.S. Rep. Leonard Lance (R-7) about the Republican Primary for Governor and he shied away, unwilling to engage just now in an unresolved contest.
Lance would probably just as have them not exist at this point.
“I received a call from Jack Ciattarelli this morning,” Lance said politely.
Nothing came out of the conversation, at least nothing that Lance cared to share.
But presumably the assemblyman running against Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno wants an endorsement.
A moderate – the kind of moderate Lance was before he went to congress – Ciattarelli has substantial support in his home county of Somerset. Hopeful of maintaining his highest vote getter on the 16th district slate in another battleground year, Somerset County GOP Chair Al Gaburo begged Ciattarelli not to run for governor, but when the Hillsborough resident refused to back down, Gaburo went all in for him.
Several longstanding Republicans have approached InsiderNJ and complained about having to back Jack – nice guy, they admit – when they love Kim, who did for rank and file Republicans over pretzel tables and at pinewood derby events what Gov. Chris Christie never did as he barnstormed New Hampshire.
But Gaburo is lowering the hammer for his assemblyman.
Now, this is more interesting.
There are some in the GOP establishment in Somerset who are tired of having to break a sweat come every primary time as Lance (from the mountain man westward portion of the 7th district) has to answer for stuff that happened eight years ago. From their complacent golf courses (one of which in Somerset yielded a president, let’s not get carried away with the adjective), far from the hurly-burly of Washington, they have grown tired of Lance ticking ever rightward and would rather throw him into judges’ robes sooner than wade into a 2018 primary dragging all that clanking history.
Let’s gently get rid of him, is a longstanding refrain.
So if it finally happens (and the Lance people are tapping their toes right now impatiently arguing that the rumors of Lance’s imminent demise have been out there forever and he’s still here), there are two people who could succeed Lance, or who appear to be the two most likely successors for the GOP in a GOP-leaning district.
One is Ciattarelli from Somerset, the central portion of the district.
The other is Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean, Jr. (R-21) from Union, on the east bank.
When Mike Ferguson announced his retirement from Congress in 2008, Kean had a brief window of time to dive into the seat Lance now occupies.
But he hesitated.
Let me check with dad.
Let me check with the wife.
So Lance, in the ultimate gentleman’s duel for that seat, pulled the trigger.
Now the once indecisive Kean, up against the prospect of more lost senate seats come this year’s general election, is said to be again eyeballing his long delayed congressional career.
So here’s how it breaks out, and why Lance is holding out.
If Lance backs Ciattarelli for congress it will be to check a Jack congressional primary in the future.
Ok, Jack, I’ll back you, but only if you commit now to not running against me next year.
Here’s the trouble.
That does nothing to check Kean, who has motivation to strike his own deal with Ciattarelli, as does Gaburo.
Jack, Tom and I are giving you the shot now; next year you have to back Tom.
This is it.
I went all in for you for guv; now you’re guv or bust.
The aristocratic Kean doesn’t want to wrestle with a blue collar guy from Raritan in a primary.
In a wholly self-interested move, Kean can captain Union to back Ciattarelli for governor now in exchange for Ciattarelli (with Gaburo’s blessing) agreeing to bow out of a 2018 primary for Lance’s seat should Kean choose to run. By backing Kean for governor and delivering Union, Kean can lay claim to Somerset’s support in 2018.
That does nothing for Lance, except motivate him to perhaps back Guadagno for governor.
If he can’t get in on that deal, he will presumably have no choice but to support the LG, or someone else.
Joseph Rudy Rullo?
But the trappings of that deal with Somerset and Union, too, do nothing to stem what could be the long turf-pawing state senator from the 23rd, the most conservative lawmaker in Trenton and a legitimate fire-breathing Trump backer: Mike Doherty on the right (who technically lives in CD5).
It’s in Lance’s interest, it appears, to get in on the deal, especially if he indeed wants a judgeship after all these years. If he does, that could mean he’ll back Jack.
If he doesn’t, based on all the other moving pieces here, chances are he’ll back Guadagno.
But again, like much else, it’s volatile.