By tradition, the winner of the Republican gubernatorial primary gets to pick the new GOP State Chairman. But some insiders are saying that if Steve Lonegan upsets Christopher Christie on June 2, its possible – if not likely – that the Republican establishment won’t cede control of the state party organization to their standard bearer.
The individual elected to lead the Republican State Committee in June will get a six-month term. Party leaders can decide next January if they want a new State Chairman. Republican legislative leaders are not likely to let Lonegan control the state party – and appointments to the legislative redistricting commission – unless he is elected Governor.
Anxious to unite the party after his upset victory in 2001, Bret Schundler chose to retain the incumbent, State Sen. Joseph Kyrillos (R-Middletown), who had been picked for the post a few months earlier by Acting Gov. Donald DiFrancesco. As part of the deal, Kyrillos replaced his new Executive Director, Alan Raymond, with Evan Kozlow, who had been Political Director of the Schundler campaign. Kyrillos held the seat until he stepped down in 2004, which left the state party apparatus in the hands of the party leadership and not with Schundler supporters.
In 1973, when conservative U.S. Rep. Charles Sandman ousted incumbent Gov. William Cahill in the Republican primary, he picked former Bridgeton Mayor John Spoltore to succeed John Dimon as GOP State Chairman. Spoltore, who worked on Sandman’s congressional staff, was acceptable to GOP leaders because he spent six years as the Cumberland County GOP Chairman.
Those were more congenial times and more willing to accept defeat. Sandman even replaced popular former Gov. Alfred Driscoll as Finance Chairman without much criticism.
Sandman lost the general election by 721,328 votes, but he was still expected to control of the party because State GOP Chairmen were elected to a four-year term. But six weeks after the election, the 52-year-old Spoltore died of a heart attack. In a special election held a month later, all three candidates were part of the so-called establishment that was more concerned about a huge debt than anything else: former GOP State Chairman Webster Todd defeated Monmouth County GOP Chairman Benjamin Danskin, 23-12, with Essex County GOP Chairman Frederic Remington receiving five votes. Sandman spoke just before the vote, urged party unity, and pledged never again to seek state office. In 1974, he lost his bid for re-election to Congress.