Kate Whitman won the endorsement of the Middlesex County Republican Party at its convention in Woodbridge this morning.
After some confusion that required a re-vote, Whitman won the first round of balloting, earning the 50% plus one requirement with 48 out of 85 votes cast. Former Summit Councilwoman P. Kelly Hatfield was the runner up, with 17 votes. State Sen. Leonard Lance came in next with 14 votes, followed by Scotch Plains Mayor Marty Marks with five votes and Iraq war vet Tom Roughneen with one.
That gives Whitman the line in this county, which between the three towns of Edison, South Plainfield and Woodbridge makes up the smallest portion of the four-county district.
But despite the county’s size, supporters said that it would give Whitman crucial momentum going into the Somerset County convention next Thursday – the last of the four counties left to award its endorsement.
Lance has the county line in Hunterdon and Hatfield in Union.
“I don’t regret my endorsement. In fact, I feel vindicated,” said conservative activist and blogger Michael Illions, who endorsed Whitman last month, getting some flack from fellow conservatives for the choice.
Lance downplayed the loss, and before the convention noted that he has the line in his native Hunterdon County, which produces the district’s biggest chunk of Republican primary voters.
“I’m pleased with my showing – I want to congratulate Kate. This is a step in the process, and now three candidates have a line. Kelly, Kate and I,” said Lance. “I think each convention stands on its own, and we’re working very hard in Somerset.”
Seven out of the district’s nine congressional candidates competed at today’s event: Whitman, Hatfield, Lance, Marks, Roughneen, Warren Township Mayor Victor Sordillo and Seton Hall professor A.J. Amar (neither of whom earned any votes).
Two other candidates who are also running for the seat did not attend: political consultant Chris Venis and Bridgewater Councilman Michael Hsing.
Each of the seven candidates got three minutes to make their cases to the audience. Roughneen, a former prosecutor and Iraq War vet, started by noting that Marine Corporal Stephen Tatum had been cleared of charges that he helped kill 24 Iraqis in Haditha in 2005.
“I hate to use the word, but we have this scumbag, Congressman John Murtha, who charged marines who were doing their jobs with being killers,” he said.
Roughneen said that he has only been a registered Republican for a few years, but had voted that way since the early 1990s.
“I have always voted for Republicans since I was in College and (former Gov. Jim) Florio screwed us,” he said.
Amar based his speech around economic themes, saying that work the economy had tanked since Ronald Reagan was President and that America needs to restore its economic supremacy worldwide. He also noted that he’s proud to be an Indian-American Republican.
“Someone was just asking me only about 10 minutes ago, ‘Are you Indian?’ I said yes. ‘Aren’t you supposed to be a Democrat?’” he said. “Democrats, if you’re listening to me, eat your hearts out – I am a Republican.”
Whitman said that she has well over 600 donors and noted that by the time her campaign files on Monday, she’ll have raised $400,000. She reinforced her campaign’s theme of fiscal conservatism, and took a small shot at some of her rival Republicans for comparing her to her mother, former Gov. Christie Whitman, who stood watching. But she saved most of her criticism for Democrat Linda Stender.
“Like some of my fellow candidates, she can try to campaign against Christie Whitman, not Kate Whitman,” she said. “But I’ll remind her that I’m my own person with my own views, and I’m confident that voters will not fall for that same cheap trick.”
Hatfield said that her years as a Summit Councilwoman showed that she knows how to balance a budget and cut spending.
“Throughout my public service I have promoted conservative Republican values,” she said. “I’m proud of my record and it stands in direct contrast to Lina Stender’s.”
Lance gave a particularly impassioned speech where he mostly ripped into Linda Stender. He also sought to show conservative voters that, on many issues, he stands with them – like illegal immigration.
“No sanctuary cities. No drivers licenses for illegal immigrants. No nation can long endure unless it has control of its voters,” he said.
Rounding out the candidate speeches was Marks, who asked voters not to compromise their conservative values, touting his fiscal and social conservatism.
“Without a doubt I can be clearly defined as an across-the-board conservative on all of the issues.”