In Delaware Township’s June 4 Democratic primary, Sam Thompson and Stephanie Dunn won nomination to run for Township Committee in November, in an uncontested race. The Republican primary had a crowded field and some surprising outcomes.
Although statewide Chris Christie won the Republican nomination, in Delaware Township Steve Lonegan won by a 10% margin, polling 298 votes to Christie’s 270.
For State Senate, Marcia Karrow won the Delaware Township vote, but Michael Doherty won the district race for the Republican nomination.
For State General Assembly, Eric Peterson got the most votes in Delaware Township and throughout the District.
In the race for Hunterdon County Freeholder, challenger Jennifer McClurg, with no prior experience in elective office, came within a fraction of a percentage point of defeating incumbent Freeholder and Frenchtown Mayor Ron Sworen. McClurg edged out Sworen by a single vote in Delaware, 291 to 290, while County-wide Sworen won, 7,144 to 7,111.
Lonegan, Doherty, Assembly candidate Ed Smith and Mc Clurg ran together. Their ticket, “Conservative Republican Putting Taxpayers First” ran strongly in Hunterdon, which was one of the few counties Lonegan won.
For Delaware Township Committee, there were two positions to fill. Incumbent Rich Madden did not seek re-election; incumbent Alan Johnson ran and was defeated by a wide margin. The Republican candidates in the November general election will be Ken Novak and Roger Locandro. Larry Coffey finished fourth in the crowded field.
The Township is facing a decision on zoning density. In the week before the primary, the Courier-Post interviewed the candidates. Mr. Novak indicated he favored continued growth: “We need growth”, Novak said. “Our school population has decreased, and nobody wants to build here. If we get larger lots, nobody will want to come in here, and we will get less money coming in”.
Mr. Johnson described himself as a proponent of Open Space preservation. He told the Courier that development increases township costs and municipal spending. “The cheapest services to maintain are the ones we don’t have to build”, he said.
Larry Coffey told the Courier “Mr. Madden is leaving the Committee, and I would like to continue things he started”. Mr. Coffey has been on the Planning Board for about 20 years.
Mr. Locandro could not be reached for comment.
Primary elections are sleepy affairs when there is no contest, as witness the Democratic primary, and overall voter turnout this year was very low. But when there is a contest, the primaries attract the party stalwarts disproportionately. This year’s Republican primary included a crowded field for Township Committee, and the Lonegan challenge to bring in a “new breed” of conservatives and challenge “moderate” GOP incumbents.
Campaign mailings from the Lonegan, Doherty, Smith and McClurg “conservative Republicans” made repeated mention of coded wedge issues such as “pro-life”, “traditional marriage”, “activist judges”, “second amendment”, “eliminate taxpayer-funded low-income housing”, and promises to cut corporate tax, small business tax and property tax. Doherty is on record denying a human role in causing global warming, and sees carbon cap and trade markets as “a new world-wide tax”.
Campaign mailings for Karrow suggested Doherty would favor immediate withdrawal from Iraq. Doherty is a former Marine whose three sons are in the armed services, so this seems like pitching to his strength, and may have contributed to her loss.
Christie’s literature does not mention “eliminating taxpayer funded low-income housing”, or COAH, which is a more moderate approach than Lonegan’s promise to “eliminate” it. The legislation that created COAH has withstood repeated legal challenges and appeals. Similarly, Lonegan promised to “eliminate” small business taxes; Christie’s literature says he would “cut” them, a more moderate approach.
Wedge issues like guns, gays and patriotism are perennial favorites that can be applied at any level of government in any state, any year. They are the sort of red-meat, hot-button topics that professional campaign advisers know will motivate the base, and they worked for Lonegan and his “new breed of conservatives”, in Delaware Township and Hunterdon County. Republicans came out to vote for Lonegan, and while they were at it they challenged incumbents generally.
How the general election campaign will be run now that Lonegan is out of the field, remains to be seen. But his challenge to “moderates” has already shaped the outcome of the primary.