GALLOWAY – Businessman Andy Unanue bested the field of GOP candidates for U.S. Senate at the Atlantic County Republican Convention here tonight, winning yet another line as part of an in absensia candidacy that is not even a week old.
Vacationingout of the state, Unanue beat state Sen. Joe Pennacchio and economist Murray Sabrin, who both spoke at the event held in the Renault Winery.
Unanue earned 758 votes to Pennacchio’s 325 and Sabrin’s 48.
“I’ve talked to Andy a couple of times,” said Atlantic County GOP chairman Keith Davis. “I talked to him tonight after our convention. As people get to know him better, he’s going to shine.”
Antagonists who have debated each other at several Republican forums only to watch millionaire Unanue generate fast party support among GOP leaders from a vacation spot in Colorado, Sabrin and Pennacchio made a quick exit.
“Keith ‘Eyes Wide Shut’ Davis said it all,” Sabrin spokesman George Ajjan said of Davis as he departed the room with Sabrin. “Andy Unanue believes in the rule of law.”
Davis shot back, “Whatever Mr. Sabrin’s lackey aide says about me, I don’t have the time to care.
“I have the utmost respect for Joe Pennacchio, who has conducted himself with class,” Davis added.
However, Pennacchio’s 94-page political treatise he wrote in the early 1990s the continues to trouble Davis. “I do believe his writings from the early 1990s would pose an obstacle for us in the general election,” thechairman said.
Despite his poor showing tonight, Sarin vowed to fight on, just as Pennachio today repeated his promise to remain in the contest until the election in June.
“If between now and then he demonstrates a knowledge of the issues, I would back him in the general election,” said Sabrin. “But I intend to be the nominee.”
Freeholder John Curcio nominated Unanue. After his victory, Assemblyman Vince Polistina (R-Atlantic) celebrated his party’s Senate choice.
“He’s a businessman,” Polistina said of Unanue. “He knows how to meet a bottom line. He’s fiscally responsible. Besides, there’s the fact that he’s Hispanic and can reach out to new voters.
“He’s going to bring money too,” Polistina added of the former CEO of Goya Foods, the Unanue family business.
In the contest for sheriff at tonight’s convention, Frank Balles of Egg Harbor Township defeated former sheriff’s officer Joe O’Donoghue for the Republican nod to face incumbent Jim McGettigan. The vote tally was 882 votes for Balles and 248 for O’Donoghue.
A 22-year veteran of the Pleasantville Police Department, Ballesis an administrative captain.
“I am not a member,” Balles admitted in answer tohis party rival’s criticism that he doesn’t haveaprofessional history with thesheriff’s office.
“I can come in with an open mind and without an ax to grind,” Balles said.
In a three way race for the right to run as Republicansfor two freeholder seats, Folsom MayorTom Ballistreri and GOP insider Manny Aponte of Egg Harbor Township emerged victorious.
Ballistreri won convincingly in the first round of balloting with 994 votes. In the second round of ballloting, Aponte beat casino restaurant employee Charles Urban, 1,036 to 96 votes.
Visible at the head of the Egg Harbor Township contingent near the front of the big room,former Sen. James “Sonny” McCullough tonight received a standing ovation from Republicans.
“We want to take a moment to thank you,” Davis told McCullough after he summoned the Egg Harbor mayor to the stage, whoin 2007led a fight from the floor of the convention to defeatthe forces ofSen. William Gormley – only to lose in the general election to Democrat James Whelan.
Accepting a gift of a bust of Ronald Reagan from Davis and the party, McCullough told the crowd, “I might have lost the race but what took place at the convention changed the direction of the Republican Party in Atlantic County.”