To the astonishment of even his own supporters, Murray Sabrin handily defeated Joe Pennacchio for the Gloucester County Republican Party’s endorsement for U.S. Senate today.
The final tally had Sabrin with 86 votes to Pennacchio’s 58. The voting was open to all registered Republicans in Gloucester County, but committee members’ votes counted twice. In all, 36 non-committee members voted for Sabrin while 24 went for Pennacchio. Twenty-five county committee members voted for Sabrin, versus 17 for Pennacchio.
“As I’ve said all along, hard work pays off,” said Sabrin.
Today’s results give Sabrin his first county line in his primary contest against Pennacchio. Pennacchio already has the line in the counties of Bergen, Hunterdon, Union and Morris.
Although Sabrin headed up Ron Paul’s presidential campaign in New Jersey, his spokesman George Ajjan said that while there was outreach to some Sabrin supporters, the event was not packed with Paulites (as was the case in a couple local presidential straw polls). As evidence, he noted that the county committee vote results were roughly the same proportion as the regular Republican voters.
Ajjan also said that the campaign will encourage county chairs to hold open conventions that include debates with a similar format. Other campaign officials said they would have discussions with the county’s Republican freeholder slate about whether they’ll field primary challengers against them, as the Sabrin campaign has promised to do in every race.
Pennacchio congratulated Sabrin on his win and remained optimistic.
“They took our message, they took his message, and Gloucester County liked his message better,” said Pennacchio.
But Pennacchio spokesman Chris Pordon downplayed the results, saying that the event was packed with Ron Paul supporters. Although the equal proportions of regular Republicans and county committee members would seem to demonstrate otherwise, Pordon said that Gloucester County was a particularly strong area for Paul on Super during Super Tuesday’s primary.
“They have definitely turned out in a large number today, and the reality is that the Ron Paul platform of blame America first does not resonate with the primary voters.”
The votes were cast after the two candidates had their first formal debate, which was completely free of confrontation.
Anyone paying attention to Sabrin’s recent press releases, with their attacks on Pennacchio for not joining Sabrin’s call for GOP State Chairman Tom Wilson to step down, could have reasonably expected a heated argument. And Pennacchio sounded ready to face those attacks just prior to the debate.
“Why would I want to call on Tom Wilson’s resignation? Because he said that Frank Lautenberg is too old,” he said. “Last I saw we were running against Frank Lautenberg.”
But if anything was remarkable about today’s debate, it was the number of issues on which the candidates seemed to agree.
Indeed, the most clear cut difference laid out by the candidates was on whether the United States should continue its embargo on Cuban trade. Pennacchio said that engagement with Cuba should be slow and careful, while Sabrin emphasized what he said was free trade’s ability to bring down totalitarian regime, and that it was hypocritical to trade with countries like China but continue the embargo.
The two also had clearly defined differences on school tax credits. Sabrin said that parents should have the option to either pay school taxes or use that money to send their children to private school. Pennacchio said that parents should only get vouchers if they live in municipality with a “failing” school system.
Both candidates supported lowering health care costs through increased competition and increasing border security. Sabrin, who immigrated to the United States from Poland as a toddler, advocating getting rid of birth right citizenship.
Perhaps the issue that the candidates agreed on most was that the Republican Party needs to stop looking for candidates based on their ability to self-fund.
“What’s happened in politics is a sad reality for both political parties, and that is whoever has a big checkbook seems to be the favorite of the leadership,” said Sabrin to applause.
Although Pennacchio has been hesitant to express any anger about much of the party leadership’s initial scramble to find another candidate in the wake of Anne Estabrook’s decision to drop out, he did say that the party needs to change its criteria for selecting candidates.
“It’s human nature to resist change,” he said. “I think Einstein said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and a different results – my party’s done that, and I’ve been there,” he said.
County committee member Allan Hawkins, of Elk Township, voted for Sabrin. He said that he did not know he was going to vote for before attending the event, although he got a personal phone call from Sabrin the night before. Hawkins said that Sabrin’s knowledge of economics helped sway him.
Frank Gross, a Republican from Elk Ridge who is not a member of the county committee, also voted for Sabrin. He had never met Sabrin before, he said, and does not support Ron Paul for president.
“He sounded very sincere, and his ideas are very in-line with some of the ideas I’ve had,” he said. “This guy sounds like he’s got the education and values and interest to make changes that can help us.”