The threat of a croquet primary

Fearful that Sen. Leonard Lance's idea of a good fight consists of slapping another man in the face with a

Fearful that Sen. Leonard Lance's idea of a good fight consists of slapping another man in the face with a glove and then offering him the first choice of dueling pistols, gutfighter Republicans last week were desperately scanning the horizon for a blue-collar primary alternative.

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Into the breach stepped 30-year old Kate Whitman, who on Friday announced her designs on the 7th district Congressional seat. Never having held elected office, the daughter of former Governor and millionaire Christie Todd Whitman can at least boast that this is not her first eyelash bat in the direction of elected office.

With mom proudly looking on last spring, the younger Whitman delivered a precocious prose poem homage to Ronald Reagan as part of her effort to woo a roomful of GOP delegates at the Somerset County Party convention. Whitman's object was a shot at county freeholder, and her 1980s flashback prod came at a time when Republicans found invocations of the Gipper particularly useful in the face of walking train wreck – and onetime presidential heir – George W. Bush.

But following her loss, Whitman told that she would examine pursuing municipal office since voters seemed unconvinced of her freeholder foray.

Then she surfaced a few days ago burnishing her working mom's candidacy for U.S. Congress.

Between Lance and Whitman, some Republicans are off the record worried about the sudden Beau Brummel effect of an ensuing party primary, as Somerset and Hunterdon are offering up back-to-back blue-blooded candidacies.

Scotch Plains Mayor Martin Marks thinks he's the man to counter the inevitability of a Lance-Whitman duel. But with his constant finger in the chest critique of his own party and herky jerky independent streak, Marks hasn't exactly endeared himself to core Republicans, and it may be unthinkable for him to make it out of a party primary.

Warren Township Mayor Victor Sordillo also hopes he can harness himself to the hopes of those Republicans convinced that a middle class-rooted product can make the most convincing case for why those in the upper-income bracket continue to merit tax cuts. As a longtime international insurance operator, Sordillo also figures he has another compelling argument: global experience.

Kelly Hatfield, a fundraiser for Rudy Giuliani who spent nine years as a Summit City Councilwoman, is also seeking support.

Then there's former Assemblyman Joel Weingarten, whom still others see as a convincing standard bearer for that portion of the GOP population whose relative point of reference is more bootstrap – as in pulling oneself up by one – than English saddle, as in riding one.

Weingarten wouldn't say today whether he's running.

"I'll be prepared to make a statement in about another week," said the Millburn resident who was displaced during the last redistricting and since then has been a man without a country – or at least without a district.

Essex County's Millburn Township does not fall within the parameters of the 7th Congressional District, but sources close to Weingarten say he would be willing to relocate to Union for the sake of a Congressional bid.

In the meantime, it's 10 paces and turn and fire in the 7th, and at that game Republicans say with his experience, smarts and deep-seated respect from legislators on both sides of the aisle, Lance has demonstrated why his particular background serves him well, and against Whitman gives him, however well-mannered – the decided edge.

The threat of a croquet primary