by MATT FRIEDMAN
Just three days out from the 26th district Republican primary between Jay Webber and Larry Casha, many Republicans say the race is too close to call.
The two candidates are enmeshed in a heated battle for one of two one open assembly seat in the 26th District, trying to outdo each others’ conservative credentials.
Assembly Minority Leader Alex DeCroce is up for reelection for the other seat, but he is considered the favorite and both other candidates claim to support him.
It’s hard to pick a favorite to win this race, observers say, since it’s almost impossible to predict just who’s going to show up to vote in a primary.
Webber, a 34-year-old lawyer from Morris Plains, started running with better name recognition, as a young go-getter who took on State Senator Bob Martin for the nomination four years ago.
Webber’s challenge to Martin during the last Senate primary scored him some points with local conservatives, who felt Martin was too moderate. Webber also shares Column A with Alex DeCroce in Passaic County, which makes up about 30% of the district.
“I think it was very courageous to go out there and run against Bob,” said 25th District Republican Assemblyman Michael Patrick Carroll. “As much as I like (Martin) as a person, he wasn’t the type of rep that the New Jersey Republican Party needs.”
“I think Parsippany is key. This was true in 1983 and it’s true today,” said Leanna Brown, a former State Senator for the district. “The problem is that I hear Parsippany is pretty much split three ways – strong Alex, Jay and Casha supporters.” Brown added that, while DeCroce is about as safe as an incumbent can be, “the spirit out of times is to vote the incumbents out. So I think Alex will do very well, but not by as huge a margin as maybe he thinks.”
Casha, 54,, is banking on his long experience in local government, both as a former Kinnelon Councilman and aide to Martin, to put his vote total over Webber’s.
To hear the candidates tell it, each thinks he can win in all of the towns. While Casha admits he started off the race with less name recognition than Webber, he has been tirelessly canvassing district towns and says he’s been to 5,000 houses already. He thinks he’ll even win in Webber’s own back yard.
“I’m confident we’re going to have a coup there, because I’m hearing form folks that they’re really tired of his negative campaigning,” said Casha. “Even though they live in that town they want to send a message that negative campaigning is not going to be tolerated.”
Much of the campaign ads and literature has been negative. Just yesterday Casha’s campaign complained of what Casha said was misleading campaign literature sent by Webber. And before even winning the primary, Casha has announced his plans to write up a piece of legislation called the “Truth in Campaigning Act,” in response to what he deemed “slanderous and deceptive attacks” by Webber.
But Casha, a former attack dog for Senator Martin, has also made strong attacks on Webber. In one recent mailing, he accused Webber of calling Martin “Mr. Potato Head” during the ‘03 primary, referring to the Senator’s shift to the right during that campaign. It was actually PoliticsNJ.com who gave Martin that moniker.
Webber denied that his campaign was purely negative, saying that his attack ads against Casha have centered around campaign issues.
“I think our campaign has presented very principled positions and has been able to draw a clear contrast between myself and Mr. Casha,” said Webber, who noted that he’s running just as hard in Casha’s home town as anywhere else. “I don’t make predictions on winning and losing. I just know the message I want to put out, and I leave the vote tallies to the voters. So I’m competing as hard in Kinnelon as in any other town and will let the votes be counted on election day,” said Webber.