Untangling the Meaning of a 2021 Frelinghuysen Endorsement

Former Senator Rodney Frelinghuysen, who has had no public involvement with Republican colleagues even before leaving office in January, has put his name at the top of a list of GOP officials endorsing Assemblyman Anthony M. Bucco’s reelection.

Rodney P. Frelinghuysen has been out of public view for awhile, so maybe he didn’t get the memo that Morris County Republicans are now picking sides in primaries.

Deviating from the wishes of the party organization, Frelinghuysen is endorsing the reelection bid of Assemblywoman BettyLou DeCroce in LD-26.

The county committee has endorsed fellow incumbent Jay Webber and newcomer Christian Barranco for the two seats in a district that includes eastern Morris and smaller parts of Essex and Passaic counties. County Commissioner Tom Mastrangelo is also in the race, but he entered after the county committee made its choices. Morris Republicans long have eschewed a “county line,” but that changed this year.

Frelinghuysen, of course, has been very much invisible since leaving Congress in January, 2019. In fact, he was largely invisible – at least publicly – for the last year of his term, which privately rankled many Morris Republicans.

He did surface in November of 2019 to endorse Aura Dunn, a former staffer when she ran – successfully as it turned out – for the state Assembly at a party convention. So, his endorsement of DeCroce is the second time we’ve heard from Frelinghuysen since he left office.

It is interesting that Frelinghuysen picked only one candidate when two party nominations are up. And he ignored Webber, the man who ran unsuccessfully to replace him in the House in 2018. Webber hasn’t responded to a phone call about the DeCroce endorsement.

DeCroce mentioned a long-ago family connection with the congressman’s family.  She said that her grandmother worked in the office of then-congressman Peter H.B. Frelinghuysen, Rodney’s father. Ah, the small world of politics. The elder Frelinghuysen served in the House from 1953 to 1975.

Moreover, Frelinghuysen was also close to BettyLou’s late husband, Alex DeCroce and his business partner, Dean Gallo, a congressman himself. It was Gallo who recommended Frelinghuysen to replace him in the House when he (Gallo) gave up his reelection bid for health reasons in 1994.

In a letter, Frelinghuysen praises DeCroce as thoughtful, hardworking and a “very conscientious public servant.”  Moreover, he says that DeCroce knows the district and described her as a fearless fighter.

In an interesting passage, Frelinghuysen writes, “While it may not be politically correct, I’ve sort of felt that 2021 is another year of the woman. Goodness knows that women in the political arena work twice as hard to get elected than most men.”

Broadly speaking, there is nothing at all controversial about suggesting women must work harder to get ahead in politics than men do. But at the same time, some Republicans dislike so-called identity politics.

Which brings us to the next point.

Frelinghuysen, a GOP moderate for most of his career, seemed to struggle with the party’s recent right wing drift. Donald Trump’s arrival just made things worse for any moderate.

So it’s pertinent to ask what effect a Frelinghuysen endorsement will have with today’s Republican voters?

Will it sway anyone, or will some Trump backers dismiss him as inconsequential?

What’s DeCroce’s take?

“When you’re a respected elected official, your name will carry on for quite a while,” she said. Demonstrating that, she said that when she goes door-to-door, some people tell her they still remember her husband, Alex, who died nine years ago.

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