In New Jersey's first open convention of the 2008 campaign, the Passaic County Regular Republican Organization has endorsed Rudy Giuliani for President.
Giuliani won 66% of the vote, garnering 77 out of the 117 votes cast. Mitt Romney came in second with 19 votes, followed by John McCain and Fred Thompson with seven each, Ron Paul with four and Mike Huckabee with three. Sam Brownback, Duncan Hunter, and Tom Tancredo failed to receive any votes.
Passaic is the home county of Mike Duhaime, Giuliani’s national campaign manager. Duhaime grew up in Bloomingdale, where his mother, Anne DuHaime, served as mayor and his father, Richard Duhaime, served as a Passaic County Freeholder.
Giuliani also had the support of GOP County Chairman Scott Rumana, the Mayor of Wayne, and former GOP County Chairman Michael Mecca. Romney had announced earlier this week that he had the support of former Paterson Mayor and '81 gubernatorial candidate Lawrence "Pat" Kramer. Assemblyman Kevin O'Toole, who represents part of Passaic County, is backing McCain.
Passaic County is deep Giuliani territory, so it’s no surprise that he carried it by such a large margin.
But that wasn’t the point of the convention, said Rumana, one of the event’s chief organizers. Rather, it was a unique way to channel the excitement of a presidential race into enthusiasm for local candidates in a county where, as in neighboring Bergen County, the Republican Party has seen better days.
The convention was open to any person who belonged to a Republican club in Passaic County. If someone didn’t belong to one, they could join right before registering. Even someone registered to another party could participate.
“If you really want to come, you can change your party registration – we have those forms too,” said Rumana.
Four local activists showed up to advocate for their chosen candidates, each stumping for a few minutes. They were joined by a number of prominent Republicans who made remarks, including the entire 26th district ticket: Assemblyman/state Senate candidate/potential U.S. Senate candidate Joe Pennacchio, Assembly Minority Leader Alex DeCroce and Assembly candidate Jay Webber.
Kramer, the former Paterson mayor, showed up as Romney’s cheerleader, comparing the former Massachusetts governor to Winston Churchill, Golda Meier and Ronald Reagan.
“I would urge you to let the man meet the moment,” said Kramer. “It’s exciting to follow the script, but it’s challenging to know what’s right.”
Paleoconservative activist George Ajjan, a blogger and former congressional candidate, spoke on behalf of Paul, seeking to assure hesitant mainstream Republicans that the unorthodox candidate was in line with their ideals.
“There is not one no one nominated to federal office in the United States who is more committed to the constitution than Ron Paul,” said Ajjan. “He is a true blue conservative.”
Richard Goldberg, Giuliani’s Passaic County Coordinator, argued that Giuliani had the best chance of winning the election against a Democrat. This time around, the Republicans will need to get some blue states in their column, he said.
“We know from experience that Rudy Giuliani knows how to come into a troubled situation, turn it around and be a leader,” said Goldberg.
Perhaps in the style of Fred Thompson’s candidacy, Totowa Attorney Jim Marotta was added as a last minute speaker to advocate for Thompson. Marotta said that the party faces three hurdles: Bush’s low approval ratings, a failure to appeal to urban voters, and what he called a “hostile media.”
“We need to nominate someone whose words and deeds effectively communicate our message in simple terms that everyone can understand,” said Marotta. “That someone, in my view, is Fred Thompson – he knows what he stands for, he says what he means, and he means what he says.”
The convention was capped off with short speeches by four local candidates: 28-year-old Surrogate candidate Jeremias Batista, an attorney from Paterson; Freeholder candidates Jerry Holt and Joseph Stinziano; and 35th district Assembly candidate Chauncey Brown III, a Paterson school board member who’s the sole Republican on the ticket in arrested former Assemblyman Al Steele’s district.
“The Passaic County Republican Party is at a turning point,” said Brown. “We have made history today and will make history in November.”