Senate GOP caucus could become more conservative after ’07 midterm elections

The Star-Ledger reported today that two powerful conservative groups that have never been huge fans of the Kean Family– the Christian Coalition and National Right to Life — are “sending out mailers and distributing fliers at churches” advocating the election of Thomas Kean, Jr. to the United States Senate. The newspaper says that the pro-life organization has spent nearly $80,000 to help the pro-choice Kean. This represents a change in philosophy by the conservatives, who had taken a virtual pass on Douglas Forrester when he ran for U.S. Senate in 2002 and for Governor in 2005. (Editor’s Note: Kean’s support comes from National Right to Life; their state organization, New Jersey Right to Life, has not endorsed a candidate.) The Kean/Conservative coalition comes at a time when there is considerable specualtion that conservatives will mount a strong campaign to change the ideological makeup of the State Senate and Assembly GOP caucuses in next year’s election. Two of the state’s most conservative Assemblymen, Michael Doherty and Guy Gregg, are mulling Senate primaries against Senate Minority Leader Leonard Lance and Robert Littell, the Ranking Republican on the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee, respectively. Another conservative, Assemblyman Joseph Pennacchio, seems certain to replace one of the most liberal members of the Senate Republican Caucus, Robert Martin, next year. Conservatives have been threatening for years to recruit a candidate to run against William Gormley in the GOP Senate primary — they came very close to ousting him in 1991 — but there is also a good chance that Gormley won’t run again in 2007. His likely replacement, Francis Blee, is viewed as a moderate, which puts him to the right of the incumbent. Burlington County Republicans are widely expected to replace Martha Bark in the eighth district, and her replacement is also likely to be more conservative — especially if the candidate turns out to be Michael Warner, the GOP County Chairman and a retired Army Colonel. Two GOP Assemblymen are vying for the eleventh district Senate seat, where Joseph Palaia is retiring: Sean Kean and Steven Corodemus. Kean is viewed as the front runner; Corodemus is the more conservative of the duo. Another possible change in the Senate could come in the sixteenth district, where longtime incumbent Walter Kavanaugh could face a serious primary challenge from Assembyman Christopher Bateman. Kavanaugh began his career in 1975 as one of the Assembly’s more conservative members, but he has not been viewed as an ideologue for many years. Still, observers view him as more conservative that Bateman. In the Assembly, the race to watch for the right is in the 26th district, where former congressional aide Jay Webber faces off against Martin’s Campaign Chairman, Lawrence Casha, for Pennacchio’s open Assembly seat. Webber ran a challenge from the right against Martin in the 2003 primary and seems to be making some headway by tying Casha to Martin’s recent voting record. Conservatives are also set to take on Assemblywoman Charlotte Vandervalk in Bergen County; possible candidates include former gubernatorial candidate Robert Schroeder and former Waldwick Mayor James Toolen.

Senate GOP caucus could become more conservative after ’07 midterm elections