Republicans not endorsing former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani fretted yesterday that the GOP’s balloting procedure would unfairly impact their own presidential candidates, and fought an email war with the state party chairmen to try to get him to intervene.
What made the matter worse for some proud party members was having to watch the Democratic State Committee relinquish its prior commitment to giving establishment candidate Sen. Hillary Clinton the line A position virtually statewide.
They argued that while Republicans were essentially handing the ballot pole position to Giuliani, the Clinton-centric Democratic leadership was mercifully loosening its stranglehold on the process to allow rival campaigns to get an equal shot at the line.
"Why is it that the New Jersey GOP isn't following the Democratic State Committee’s lead in holding an open draw for presidential candidates?" Republican counsel Brian Nelson asked State Committee Chairman Tom Wilson. "Why are the Republicans still following the process the Democrats are abandoning?"
As the Democrats put county clerks through a jolting series of commands on their way to finally ordering an open drawing for all presidential candidates, Wilson wouldn’t get involved in giving orders to the clerks.
He’d made the entire matter simple enough in a memorandum issued to party chairmen earlier in the week, when he wrote that presidential candidates endorsed by county organizations would be entitled to column A placement on the Feb. 5th primary ballot.
Endorsed by 15 of the state’s 21 Republican Party county organizations, Giulaini would have a clear ballot edge statewide.
With the organization’s pick intact for line A, "The Clerks will then place the names of the remaining qualified, non-endorsed candidates in a blind draw to determine the order in which they will appear after the endorsed candidate," Wilson wrote.
On Thursday, the day the clerks around New Jersey were simultaneously scheduled to draw the names of candidates at 3 p.m., Nelson, who supports former Gov. Mitt Romney for president, prodded Wilson to make it an all-out open draw.
But Wilson refused.
"The nature of our party is to acknowledge differences," said the state party chairman. "Ours is not a top down party structure."
Wilson’s argument hinged on what he cited as respect for the county organization’s individual bylaws. Some have specific rules governing presidential endorsements and their ballot line advantages. Others have open drawings, regardless of the candidate the county organization supports. With this in mind, undoubtedly some operations would give Giuliani the line, while others would not. Imperative to Wilson was that they follow their own rules.
At least two individual chairmen acknowledged open drawings in their counties.
"Although I’m supporting Giuliani, it’s always been an open draw here," said Morris county GOP Chairman John Sette.
Monmouth County Republican Chairman Adam Puharic also refused to impose his endorsement of Romney on the clerk’s office. "We’re going to make this a process beneficial to all Republicans and have an open draw," said Puharic.
But the chief spokesman for the Romney campaign in New Jersey, State Sen. Joseph Kyrillos, wasn't pleased with ceding all control to the counties on a sensitive issue like ballot placement.
"Adam Puharic is a reformer and he’s doing the right thing by allowing a draw," said Kyrillos. Other county chairs may not be as enlightened however, and the senator wanted the assurance of an open draw everywhere, "in the interest of fair play, with the backdrop of the Democrats doing the right thing here."
Richard Mroz, campaign coordinator for McCain in New Jersey, agreed with Kyrillos, and pressed for an open drawing.
"It’s not a big deal," said Mroz, "but anything that opens this primary up is good for voters, and good for John McCain."
"We can always appeal it if we have to, and it’s probably not worth going to court over, but it’s just an issue of fairness and why are we not following the law?" asked Nelson, citing Schundler v. Donovan as legal precedent.
"County chairs only control their incorporated slogan, not ballot positions, which can only be determined by a draw except for in the case of a U.S. Senate or gubernatorial candidate who chooses not to bracket as provided under Title 19," said the GOP counsel.
Firing email arguments back at Nelson, Wilson refused to transgress what he sees as the pre-eminence of organization-specific bylaws dictating how each party outfit should go about processing its first choice presidential candidate. As they failed to reach an agreement, each argued that his point of view would better position state party members to march into the Republican National Convention with delegation integrity.
But they also agreed their argument is unl
ikely to go anywhere, and Nelson and Kyrillos both said they would be unlikely to appeal Thursday’s statewide drawings.
"It’s much ado about noting," said Wilson. "The names of five candidates will all appear in same column, in the same row. No one’s going to vote on Feb. 5th who doesn’t know what he’s going to do."
For the record, Wilson supports McCain, he noted – not local establishment darling Giuliani.
Fellow McCain-backer Sen-elect Bill Baroni agreed with Wilson.
"These are legitimate questions, but people are going to walk into the voting booth on Feb. 5th, and they are going to know who they’re going to vote for," said Baroni. "These voters are extremely tuned in."