Paul Reed, the Salem County Republican Chairman, would like to see his own county – the least populous in New Jersey – get some representation in the state legislature. But even with Democratic Assemblyman Doug Fisher (D-Bridgeton) set to be nominated as Secretary of Agriculture, no local Republicans have stepped forward yet.
“We haven’t had representation in Salem County for a long time, and we need representation up there,” said Reed. “I’ve asked around and don’t have any. It doesn’t mean there won’t be anybody who wants to step up between now and April. I’ve been looking through the bushes, but I don’t have any prospects at this time.”
Salem County, with a population of about 65,000, is the only county in the state without a representative in the legislature, and has been since former Assembly Speaker Jack Collins, a Republican, retired in after the 2001 election. It is located completely in the 3rd Legislative District along with parts of Gloucester and Cumberland Counties. It makes up about 31 percent of the district’s population to Gloucester’s 48 percent and Cumberland’s 21 percent.
“In my 28 years in the Senate, there was always a representative from Salem. That’s not to say that a representative wouldn’t be acceptable from Cumberland – it certainly would have. It just worked out that’s the way it was,” said former state Sen. Raymond J. Zane, who lost reelection to Senate Majority Leader Stephen Sweeney (D-West Deptford) after switching parties in 2001. “I don’t think it would be a good idea for all three to be from Gloucester County.”
Normally, the first place Republican recruiters from Salem County would look would be at the two Republicans on the freeholder board – Julie Acton and the newly-elected Dale Cross. But neither is interested, and Republicans don’t want to blow a shot at control of the board this year by opening up new seats.
Conversely, Democrats, having lost one seat on the Salem County freeholder board despite gains most other places in an otherwise favorable year for their party, are not likely to run any freeholders from there.
Democrats will pick an interim replacement for Fisher through a special convention where the recommendation of Sweeney will weigh heavily. South Jersey Democratic sources downplayed the importance of geography in selecting the replacement, and shed doubt on the prospect that someone from Salem will be elevated to the position.
“Cherry Hill has more people than Salem County,” said one influential Democratic insider.
So far, the only Republican who has publicly expressed interest is former Cumberland County Surrogate Arthur Marchand, who started toying with the possibility shortly after losing his post to Doug Rainear in November.
Marchand, a former Cumberland County Prosecutor, said that his decision hinges on two factors: whether Fisher, who he considers a friend, does indeed leave office to become secretary of agriculture; and whether the cash strapped state Republican Party will commit to spending significant funds to the district.
“I look at the 3rd District as really being a key district. If you go back in time, you see if the 3rd District is Democrat the state is Democrat. If it’s Republican, the state is Republican,” said Marchand. “I don’t know how that plays this year, but I don’t think the people in the district are completely satisfied with the Governor.”
Gloucester County Republican Chairwoman Loran Oglesby said that having one less incumbent on the ballot will open up more of an opportunity for a Republican candidate.
“I do think it’s a winnable district, so we are in talks with potential candidates and we will run good candidates,” said Oglesby. “I think it would be very good if we could have a candidate from Gloucester and one Salem, and yes, I do think it would make a difference.”