Ocean County Republicans will hold a screening committee meeting on Saturday morning to meet the candidates for Jim Saxton’s seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. In Ocean County, where GOP Chairman George Gilmore rules firmly, an endorsement from the screening committee is almost tantamount to a victory at the open county GOP convention – which will be held on Monday night.
The likely Burlington County candidate, Medford Deputy Mayor and Lockheed Martin Vice President Christopher Myers, plans to screen in Ocean – sources say that former GOP State Chairman David Norcross will not appear before the screening committee, a strong indication that he has decided not to run. Insiders close to Gilmore and Burlington GOP leader Glenn Paulsen say there is no agreement on a candidate. That means the Republicans are headed toward a primary between candidates from Ocean and Burlington counties.
In Ocean County, Freeholders Joseph Vicari and John Kelly are actively seeking support, and there have been mixed signals that Gilmore would like to see former Assemblywoman Virginia Haines become the nominee. Haines’ former husband, ex-Ocean County Clerk Dean Haines, ran a strong race in the 1984 GOP primary against Saxton.
Vicari, the Berkeley Township Superintendent of Schools, spent fourteen years on the Toms River Township Council (including five years as Mayor), and has been a Freeholder since 1981. Kelly, a Freeholder since 1995, spent seventeen years on the Eagleswood Township Committee, including eleven as Mayor.
Camden County Republican Chairman Richard DeMichelle has a close relationship with Gilmore, and sources say that DeMichelle is likely to award the Camden line to the Ocean candidate.
This could impact the U.S. Senate race, if the only candidates in the June primary are Anne Evans Estabrook and Joseph Pennacchio. One Republican strategist suggests that if a Senate and House candidate aligned with each other in one county, it could push the other county to endorse the other Senate candidate.