Assembly Minority Leader Alex DeCroce (R-Parsippany) is having a tough year playing the candidate recruitment game this year.
At the start of the campaign season, only four districts were viewed as potentially competitive for the Republicans: District 1, a GOP-leaning district where Democrats hold two Assembly seats and will not have the benefit of coattails from popular State Sen. Jefferson Van Drew (D-Upper); District 3, where four-term Assemblyman Douglas Fisher gave up his seat to become state Secretary of Agriculture; District 14, which has elected Democratic and Republican legislators in each of the last four elections; and District 36, where two Democratic Assemblymen were re-elected by a relatively narrow margin two years ago and where the EnCap/Xanadu issues have taken a toll on local candidates.
But the GOP has not done well recruiting or nominating their strongest candidates. Their top choice in the 36th district, East Rutherford Councilman Joel Brizzi, changed his mind about running and dropped out between his announcement and filing day. Some Republicans think there might be more to the story, suggesting that State Sen. Paul Sarlo (D-Sanzari) might have helped alter the field.
The top GOP recruits in the 14th, Hamilton Councilwoman Kelly Yaede and former Cranbury Councilman Wayne Wittman, ended their campaigns just days before the GOP nominating conventions. Republicans wound up with a primary between second choice candidates, and DeCroce had to spend money to nominate two political unknowns.
In District 3, Republicans worked to recruit Arthur Marchand, a top-tier challenger who had served as Cumberland County Surrogate, Freeholder and Prosecutor. But Marchand and his running mate, East Greenwich Mayor George Shivery, lost the GOP primary by a razor thin margin.
And last week, Upper Township Committeeman Frank Conrad, who was one of the Republicans challenging Nelson Albano (D-Vineland) and Matthew Milam (D-Vineland), dropped out of the race. Republicans are seeking a replacement candidate, with Ocean City GOP Municipal Chairman John McCann emerging as the leading candidate.