The campaign that never was

In early 1977, Republicans were optimistic about their chances of defeating Democratic Governor Brendan Byrne, but some party insiders weren’t quite sure their field of candidates were especially strong. The front runner was Raymond Bateman, a gentlemanly State Senator from Somerset County who had served twenty years in the Legislature, including two as Senate President. Thomas Kean, the 42-year-old Assembly Minority Leader (and former Speaker) from Essex County, was also in the race. Other prospective candidates remained in the wings, being heavily courted by party leaders, including Matthew Rinaldo, a three-term Congressman and former State Senator from Union County. With strong ties to labor and a genuine base in the City of Elizabeth (which he carried in each of the thirteen races he ran there), he seemed to be an attractive candidate. Rinaldo spent years teasing Republicans about his interest in statewide office, but never pulled the trigger. Frederick Lacey, a respected U.S. District Court Judge and former U.S. Attorney, was serious, and some say he wanted to run. After a meeting at his home, at least one major county GOP organization was prepared to back him. That fell apart over a small, but important, detail: Lacey wanted the endorsement to come first, and the Republicans wanted him to resign from the bench and enter the race before they would announce their backing. That was based on the precedent set four years earlier when Byrne, then a Superior Court Judge, delivered his resignation to the Governor’s Office and then went outside the statehouse to announce that he would run for Governor.

The campaign that never was