Unanue has ‘no intention’ of stepping down

Even after today’s filing deadline, it seems like everybody still wants to change the candidates in the Republican primary for the U.S. Senate. At least a few high ranking Republican activists are hoping that they can convince Goya Foods heir Andy Unanue to drop out, but his friend and advisor, Bergen County Republican Chairman Rob Ortiz, said that’s not going to happen.

“Andy has no intention of stepping down,” he said.

Unanue, entered the race just two weeks ago as the party’s darling but quickly fell from grace amidst questions about his residency and allegations stemming from an intra-family business dispute.

Some Republicans say that Unanue is upset at the national Republicans’ all out effort to push biotech millionaire John Crowley into the race, which went so far as to have John McCain and Rudy Giuliani call him and urge him to run. What’s unclear is whether that anger will make Unanue more or less likely to forego his run.

According to Ortiz, however, Unanue isn’t mad.

“The thing about Andy is that he doesn’t have a big ego,” he said.

The first name floated as an alternate to Unanue was state Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean, Jr., who did not respond to numerous requests for comment. Some Republican sources are hopeful that a Kean candidacy would get state Sen. Joe Pennacchio to drop his own bid, but to hear Pennacchio’s campaign tell it, that’s extremely unlikely to happen.

“I’ve got no problems of Tom Kean, Jr. He’s a great guy,” said Pennacchio campaign manager Dan Gallic, who hadn’t heard any rumors about a Kean candidacy. “But he hasn’t been in this. That would be such an insult to Joe Pennacchio…. I have a hard time believing that Tom would enter this race.”

Another name floated was former Rep. Dick Zimmer, who works as a lawyer in Washington but maintains a New Jersey residence.

Zimmer acknowledged that he’s been called about the prospect of replacing Unanue, but stressed that he’s not initiating the talks and is not actively seeking out the opportunity.

“I’ve heard discussions, but this is something that I have not initiated, and it’s nice to know people still remember me,” he said. “I supported Anne Estabrook and I was hoping the party would recruit a strong successor to her, not referring to me. So I think at this point you could just put it down as chatter.”

While Unanue’s advisors insist that he plans to be in this race through the June primary and November general election, speculation about his plans will likely continue as long as he remains out of public view. He returned from his trip in Vail, Colo. earlier this week, but has not made any public appearances since, while his campaign still lacks a headquarters.

If Unanue does decide to turn his campaign over to someone else, his three-member committee on vacancies will have until next Wednesday (48 days before the primary election) to select that candidate.

Pennacchio, for his part, has watched the party establishment search for just about anyone but him while developing his own base of support. Maybe, he said, it’s time for the party to get behind him.

“By all accounts Andy Unanue seems to be a nice guy,” he said. “The party recruited him. Now because they didn’t get him out, guess what, now the party’s having buyer’s remorse… If I was Andy I ‘d be upset not with Joe Pennacchio, but with the people who wanted me there in the first place.”