Estabrook’s timing ticks off Pennacchio

Anne Evans Estabrook’s announcement that she’s running for U.S. Senate may not come as a surprise to anybody who follows New Jersey politics, but its timing irritated one of her potential Republican primary opponents.

“I would have hoped that Anne would have put the interest of our party and the people of New Jersey ahead of her own political interests, and waited until after this election cycle,” said Assemblyman Joseph Pennacchio, who set up a U.S. Senate exploratory committee in September and is running for a state Senate seat.

Pennacchio said that Estabrook should have waited at last a few weeks to “pull the trigger” – that her focus should not be on her Senate campaign, but on helping candidates enmeshed in legislative, county and municipal races.

“Our entire focus should be on an election that is two weeks from now, not eight months down the road. I would hope that Anne has not given up on our Republican candidates and our chance at victory this November 6th by looking beyond,” said Pennacchio.

But in announcing her candidacy two weeks before the local elections, Estabrook was able to use the fact that she does not hold an elected office to her advantage. The two other Republicans who have expressed interest in running — Pennacchio and Assemblyman Jon Bramnick – both have to run state legislative campaigns, albeit in safe districts. It wouldn’t be politically feasible for either of them to announce their intentions before November 7th.

Estabrook, on the other hand, managed to get ahead of the pack before the legislative elections can shake up the power structure in Trenton – and possibly some of her support. For someone who’s running as the establishment Republican candidate, that may be important.

"It’s establishing that beachhead,” said Ingrid Reed, a political analyst at the Eagleton Institute’s New Jersey Project. “Before anything happens on November 7th that has people speculating and lining up in a different way, she said that ‘I declare that I want to be the candidate representing the party in the next election.’”

Bramnick, who has not yet formed an exploratory committee, admitted that Estabrook had an advantage in announcing early, citing how she will be able to start rounding up firm support and endorsements. But he didn’t have any problem with the announcement’s timing.

“It sounds like she already announced and now this is like a more formal announcement. I don’t see how it affects legislative races,” said Bramnick. “Do I think there’s an advantage? Absolutely. You’ve got to line up support earlier and earlier.”

Estabrook’s campaign has already announced the support of some Republican heavy weights, including fundraiser Lew Eisenberg, who used to be finance chairman of the Republican National Committee and headed up the Port Authority, and businessman Peter Cocoziello. Her exploratory committee included eight county chairs.

Estabrook campaign spokesman Tom Blakely, said that there was one simple reason for the riming of Estabrook’s announcement: she’s ready. Any speculation about timing of the announcement, he said, was over-analysis.

“She’s ready to move forward, and that’s it,” said Blakely. “She’s not one to play games on this…She doesn’t see any reason to beat around the bush.”

The press release Estabrook issued to announce her candidacy did not address her potential primary opponents, narrowing its criticism to Democratic incumbent Frank Lautenberg as being partially responsible for the state’s “affordability crisis,” which she said was brought about by hard taxes.

Estabrook’s campaign is likely to be at least partially self-funded, and she will need substantial funds if she’s going to match the nearly $3 million that Lautenberg has on hand.

For its part, Lautenberg’s campaign extended Estabrook a tongue-in-cheek welcome.

"Senator Lautenberg welcomes Anne Estabrook to the race,” said Lautenberg campaign director Steve DeMicco. “We look forward to hearing her detailed plans for reversing President Bush's ban on stem cell research, providing health insurance to the thousands of uninsured children in New Jersey, and ending the Iraq War."

  Estabrook’s timing ticks off Pennacchio