Facing a lack of name recognition in Ocean County, gubernatorial hopeful Jack Ciattarelli (R-Somerville) is hoping to court the county’s likely Republican primary voters with an implied jab at Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno in a targeted letter emphasizing his desire to lead in the “post-Christie era” and a warning to down the ballot candidates about what could happen to them if their party’s 2017 nominee is framed as a third term of Governor Chris Christie.
“Given the challenges our state and party face, now is not the time for a sentimental vote or to follow some misguided duty to nominate the next person in line,” the Somerset County state assemblyman wrote in the letter, which was targeted to likely Ocean County Republican primary voters.
The letter made reference to Guadagno by way of indirect insinuations, and stopped short of calling the lieutenant governor out by name. A copy of the letter was provided to OCP by a source.
Guadagno has widely been seen as “the next in line” to be the Republican party’s nominee for governor after Christie. The likely 2017 candidate – despite not yet declaring her candidacy – has received early support from Ocean County GOP chair George Gilmore, among other Republican leaders around the state.
Adding to her support, this week a list of endorsements for Guadagno published by Observer / PolitickerNJ included Toms River Mayor Tom Kelaher, among other elected officials and party leaders listed as supporting the lieutenant governor’s candidacy. Republican sources also told OCP this week that Guadagno is expected to attend the upcoming reorganization meeting of the Ocean County Board of Chosen Freeholders in January, where Freeholder Joe Vicari will be sworn in as director of the board for 2017.
In the past, the lieutenant governor has been the subject of much speculation regarding her ambitions for the 2017 gubernatorial race, but still has yet to formally announce her candidacy. Earlier in 2016, Guadagno formally unveiled her “Building a Better New Jersey” group, another move that appeared to be an early sign of Guadagno’s desire to run for governor. Her group received early support from Gilmore, while Bill Stepien, a Christie aide who was fired in the wake of the “Bridgegate” scandal, was chosen to be the group’s executive director.
This year, Stepien emerged as the Ocean County GOP’s new consultant of choice, with Stepien being hired at the county and municipal level.
Despite Guadagno’s early backing from the party establishment, Ciattarelli is cautioning Republicans about possible blowback arising from their party’s gubenetorial candidate being seen as too similar to Christie, especially amid the governor’s sinking approval ratings.
“The fact of the matter is, if our nominee is easily painted as Chris Christie’s third-term, there will be consequences for Republican candidates running down the ballot,” concluded the letter.
The anti-Guadagno sentiment was shared by Ocean County’s own GOP gubenetorial hopeful Joseph Rudy Rullo, who amid a social media war of words with rival candidate Steve Rogers, posted a Facebook video in which he was critical of the antidemocratic way in which party leaders shape the primary process.
Assembly Republican leader Jon Bramnick, comedian Joe Piscopo and State Senator Michael Doherty, are among others rumored to be considering entering the race.