3rd District Congressional candidate Frederick John LaVergne has emerged as the front-runner in the Democratic primary race, having scored the first victory of the race by winning the coveted endorsement vote of the Burlington County Democratic Committee, in a four-way race.
Voting took place Thursday evening at the committee’s annual Mini-Convention at the Willingboro VFW Post, with the party selecting and officially endorsing federal candidates at the event.
LaVergne won by a comfortable margin, with the Delanco resident garnering just over 70% of the votes, with the remaining 30% unevenly splintered between three other challengers.
Every Democratic candidate that has won Burlington County’s support in the CD3 primary has gone on to win the nomination since the creation of the modern CD3 following the 1990 census.
THE CANDIDATES (in order of # of votes received):
1st Place – Frederick J. LaVergne
Despite some members of the establishment attempting to throw obstacles in the way of his campaign, LaVergne’s ground game and network of supporters propelled the Delanco native to be the top vote-getter Thursday night.
“Mr. LaVergne’s resounding victory should not be understated,” said his chief of staff Pat Lindsay-Harvey. “He is now, for all intents and purposes, already the Democrat’s CD3 Candidate.”
Will Focus On Ocean County Next
Speaking first with Ocean County Politics, LaVergne issued the following statement in response to his win:
“I am not naïve. While I clearly understand the significance of our overwhelming win in Burlington, Ocean remains of critical importance to me, and to our campaign. Burlington County’s support will statistically insure delivery of the formal nomination in June, but it is Burlington AND Ocean County TOGETHER that drive the Democratic Party for the win in November, so I am taking nothing – and no one – for granted. Every community counts, and every vote counts.”
The congressional front-runner counted several influential Burlington Democrats among his base of support at the convention. “LaVergne’s message was clear, he has done the work to earn this,” said Willingboro Mayor Nat Anderson.
Pemberton Democrat Municipal Chair Antoine Hicks echoed other supporters, who commented that “LaVergne’s presentation and organization were on point.”
He added “While a few certain establishment folks tried to block his nomination, he was defended.”
2nd Place – Joanne Schwartz
Former Burlington County Freeholder Joanne Schwartz was voted out of office in 2015 along with running mate Aimee Belgard (Belgard ran against incumbent Tom MacArthur for Congress in 2014, and was recently appointed as a Superior Court Judge at the Burlington vicinage.) Schwartz put her name in the hat for the endorsement of the Burlington County Democrats to run for the CD3 seat, but came up short, finishing second.
Schwartz didn’t even bother showing up for the endorsement vote, and was nowhere to be found Thursday night.
3rd Place – John Vrana
John Vrana, a retired union meat cutter from Riverside finished in third place. Vrana entered the race seemingly out of nowhere, amid speculation that establishment Democrat Assemblyman Troy Singleton or Pamela Rosen-Lampitt (who does not live in the third district) would run for the seat.
Mr. Vrana’s surprise candidacy reeked of the familiar odor of collusion and influence-peddling associated with the Norcross machine’s stranglehold over South Jersey politics. Vrana made no attempt at covering it up, announcing to the Burlco committee that he “… was asked to run by his lifelong friend George [Norcross].“
Apparently one congressman isn’t enough for Boss George, as Norcross’ brother Donald is facing a strong challenge from Alex Law as he seeks reelection in Camden County’s 1st Congressional district.
4th Place – Michael Cooke
Toms River attorney Michael Cooke finished in a distant fourth place, getting less than half a dozen votes. When making his speech to the committee, Cooke took care to emphasize that he is not yet actually running, but that he was simply “exploring whether he should run.” Cooke’s law practice is based out of Perth Amboy, and Democratic sources tell us he moved to the district just a year ago.
Ocean County Convention Next Step
New Jersey’s 3rd congressional district is comprised of the majority of Ocean and Burlington counties, and in contested primary races, the endorsement of the all-important county committees can make or break a candidate, regardless of political party – as voters often support the candidates given the “county line” – and vote for candidates favored by the county organization. County Democratic and Republican committees include one male and one female committeeperson representing every voting district within each municipality of the respective county.
With the focus of the race now moving to Ocean County, all eyes are on the upcoming Ocean County Democratic Committee’s Mini-Convention, slated to be held on March 19th in Toms River.
After losing in their own county, Mrs. Schwartz and Mr. Vrana’s primary campaigns would have a difficult road ahead, should they attempt to move forward into Ocean County.
Party insiders said that the two will likely end their campaigns in the coming weeks, as the loss in Burlington makes victory in Ocean County “statistically insurmountable.”
In the wake of his victory, Mr. LaVergne is refocusing his attention on Ocean County, having previously held an event in Lacey Township. “In Ocean County, Mr. LaVergne already enjoys a wide base of support among the Democratic County Committee Members,” remarked his chief of staff Pat Lindsay-Harvey.
Down the ballot, the only announced Democrat running for Ocean County Freeholder, Brick Township’s Tracy M. Caprioni, has endorsed LaVergne.
Independents Could Shape Election’s Outcome
On the face of it, portions of the district may appear to be heavily partisan. But as important as these endorsement votes are, independent voterss are likely going be the real kingmaker in CD3, given the current political climate.
As reported by the New Jersey Division of Elections, just 18% of the 3rd district’s voters are registered as Republican, 32% are Democrats, and a whopping 50% of CD3 voters are registered as unaffliated, not pledging loyalty to either of the two major parties. Whichever candidate can garner the support of independents leading up to the November general election will have a marked advantage in terms of electability.
Following the conventions of both counties will be the June 7th primary election, after which a nominee will be chosen to face off against incumbent Republican Tom MacArthur.