Pennacchio refuses to rule out race vs. Lautenberg

Assemblyman Joseph Pennacchio says his attention is fixed on his bid for State Senate, but would not rule out a challenge to U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg next year.

"My total focus at this point is to run for State Senate, and making sure we get our majority back, as well as focusing the state party into developing a distinctive message," said Pennacchio, who is unopposed in the GOP primary for the seat currently held by retiring State Sen. Robert Martin.

Morris County Republican Chairman John Sette says he believes Pennacchio, a onetime Democrat who changed parties after being inspired by Ronald Reagan, would be a good candidate to run for U.S. Senate in ’08, particularly if former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani is the party’s nominee for president.

"I appreciate his (Sette’s) support," said Pennacchio, 51, a Brooklyn-born dentist and former Morris County Freeholder who is completing his fourth term in the Assembly. "I was invited into the party as a Ronald Reagan Democrat and I decided to stay. I would hope the big tent of our party would include former Democrats."

So far, two Republicans have expressed an interest in challenging Lautenberg: former New Jersey Chamber of Commerce President Anne Evans Estabrook, and Assemblyman Michael Doherty of Warren County.

Pennacchio refuses to rule out race vs. Lautenberg