Today’s Middlesex County Republican fundraiser in Woodbridge was not a large event, with only about 40 donors attending. But the interesting thing about it was who showed up — all three potential Republican U. S. Senate candidates.
Invited to speak at the fundraiser were Assemblyman (and State Senate candidate Joseph Pennacchio, who just formed an exploratory committee this month, and Spring Lake businesswoman Anne Evans Estabrook, the first candidate to show signs of interest in Frank Lautenberg’s seat. Also in attendance — not speaking but listening from the other side of the relatively small room — was Assembly Minority Whip Jon Bramnick, who is mulling a U.S. Senate bid but has not yet formally declared any intentions.
The $1,000 per table event, which raised money for county level candidates, was the first to play host to Pennacchio and Estabrook at the same time, and a chance for the two to practice their stump speeches after flipping a coin to decide who went first. Despite clear ideological differences — Pennacchio is conservative, Estabrook more moderate — neither candidate referenced the other in their speeches, instead criticizing Frank Lautenberg and the Democratic Party.
Estabrook said that her non-political business background would work to her advantage – – that she understood the government’s fiscal straits through her own private enterprise experience, and wanted to cut taxes and government spending. She laid out her positions on issues like immigration and Iraq, criticizing Lautenberg for voting in favor of the 1986 “amnesty bill.” And while Estabrook acknowledged that the Iraq War had been mismanaged, she called a timetable withdrawal “irresponsible,” saying it would serve as a virtual “billboard in Baghdad.”
Pennacchio slightly tailored the same stump speech he gave at the Passaic County Republican Presidential Convention last weekend, which focused largely on foreign policy and harkened back to the days of his political idols: Ronald Reagan and John F. Kennedy.
“Like Ronald Reagan, I’d like to think that I didn’t leave the Democrats… The Democrats left me. This is pretty apropos for Middlesex County, because there are a lot of my friends that want to be Republicans. They just don’t know it yet,” said Pennacchio.
Democrats, he said, had politicized the war on terror and unfairly distributed homeland security funds. He noted Gov. Jim McGreevey’s hiring of his lover, Golan Cipel, as a homeland security advisor; that the vast majority of homeland security funds have been doled out to Democratic districts; and Sharpe James’s purchase of garbage trucks with federal dollars meant for homeland security.
Bramnick said that it was a coincidence he showed up to the same event that Estabrook and Pennacchio attended. He has been relatively quiet about his Senate aspirations, but said that he was “looking at (running for Senate) really seriously,” though he said he would not make an announcement until after the November election.
“I’m trying to get a feeling for it,” said Bramnick. “This is great. I got to hear the candidates and say ‘Hmm. Do I want to stand up next?’”