New, emerging voter groups are always up for grabs. With Democrats rejecting the candidacy of Sami Merhi, an Arab American, for Passaic County Freeholder, the New Jersey Arab-American Republican Caucus has pledged to aggressively pursue the votes of Arab-Americans for Republican candidates in New Jersey, saying the GOP has a better record of reaching out to Arab-American voters. Republicans have already run Arab-Americans for higher office in Passaic County, nominating North Haledon Mayor Randy George for Freeholder in 2003, George Ajjan for Congress in 2004, and Victor Rabbat for Freeholder in 2005. The highest-ranking Arab-American in New Jersey politics is a Republican: Joseph Kyrillos, a State Senator from Monmouth County and former GOP State Chairman. After the Civil War, African Americans in New Jersey voted Republican — the first African American to serve in the Legislature was Republican Walter Gilbert Alexander, a physician from Orange whose parents were freed slaves. He was elected in 1920. But 86 years later, there are relatively few Black Republicans holding public office in this state; no Black Republicans have served in the Legislature since Thomas Smith died in 2002, and over the last forty years, Smith and Priscilla Anderson, an Assemblywoman from 1992 to 1994, were the only African American Republicans to serve in the Legislature. The first African American to win a major party nomination for Congress were also an African Americans, Earl Harris and William Stubbs, both Essex County Republicans who ran in 1964. The first African American to serve in the State Senate and to represent New Jersey in Congress were both Democrats from Newark: Hutchins Inge, M.D. was elected to the Senate in 1965, and Donald Payne to Congress in 1988. In the 1980’s, Hispanics were beginning to trend Republican. Republican Jorge Rod became the first Latino to serve in the New Jersey Legislature when he won an Ocean County Assembly seat in 1981. Ronald Reagan in 1984 and Thomas Kean in 1985 won Hudson County by huge margins; two Republicans were elected to the Hudson County Board of Freeholders in 1984, including Cuban-born Octavio Alfonso, and four Republicans were elected to the State Assembly from Hudson in 1985, including Cuban-born Jose Arango. But by 1987, the trend was over: the Republican legislators and Freeholders lost. One of the GOP’s rising stars, Albio Sires, who became the first Hispanic to win a major party nomination for Congress when he ran as a Republican in 1986, switched parties in the 1990’s. He became the Assembly Speaker and is now the front-runner to win a seat in Congress. Robert Menendez, who played a key role in stopping Republican gains in Hudson County twenty years ago, became New Jersey’s first Latino United States Senator in January. Republicans were the first to send women to the Legislature, electing Margaret Laird and Jennie VanNess, both Essex Republicans, to the State Assembly in 1920. Democrats countered by sending Mary Norton, a Jersey City Democrat, to Congress in 1924, and nominating 32-year-old Thelma Parkinson for United States Senate in 1930. Marion West Higgins, a Bergen County Republican, was the Assembly Speaker in 1965 — the only women to hold the post. Republicans have elected a woman Governor (Christine Todd Whitman in 1993) and have nominated three women for the United States Senate.