State Sen. Leonard Lance won the Somerset County Republican convention tonight, an important victory in his quest for the Republican nomination to succeed Rep. Mike Ferguson in the seventh congressional district.
Lance beat Whitman nearly 2-1, winning 136 votes to her 74 in the second round of balloting.
Hundreds of Somerset Republican County Committee members packed the Elks Lodge in Bridgewater tonight to participate in the event, where they also voted on Senate and freeholder candidates. But the seventh district congressional race was the real contest of the night.
“There were six candidates from Somerset County and I was able to prevail,” said Lance. “I think it shows that the Republican Party in Somerset County recognizes that I will be the agent of change in Washington.”
Somerset was the final of four county conventions in the district, and it may also be the most influential.
The three top candidates each had a county line coming into tonight’s contest. Lance won his native Hunterdon County in February, which traditionally produces the most Republican primary votes. Hatfield won her home county of Union last month, which accounts for the single largest chunk of the district. Whitman won Middlesex last week, which has only three towns in the district, with a Republican vote of less than 8,000.
The convention also ended the candidacies of Somerset natives Victor Sordillo, the Warren Township mayor who prided himself in the politeness of his campaign (his campaign signs read “Sordillo, Please!”), and Hillsborough political consultant Chris Venis.
Bridgewater Councilman Michael Hsing, who had previously announced his candidacy, did not show up, but his name was on the ballot. It’s not clear whether he’s still running.
The eight candidates who did attend gave quick, back-to-back two minute speeches, but the real contest was between Lance and Whitman.
The frontrunners’ speeches only attackedLinda Stender, the sure-thing Democratic nominee, although two of the long-shot candidates took swipes at Lance and Whitman.
Iraq vet Tom Roughneen, who only got four votes tonight but has run a spirited campaign, passed out rubber ducks, saying that his opponents were ducking his questions about how they would take care of veterans. During his speech, he took a swipe at the cordial relationship between Lance and some prominent Democrats.
“I will not be in the paper with Dick Codey saying I’m Mr. Nice Guy,” he said, adding that his experience as a municipal prosecutor demonstrates that he’s tough but fair.
Meanwhile, former Hillsborough Councilman Chris Venis focused his criticism on Whitman, singling out her six point plan for her first term in Congress.
“My ego has no void to be filled here, nor do I think because of my family name do I deserve this,” he said. “If you think a freshman member of congress in the minority is going to have an impact with a 5, 6, 10, even 100 point plan – you’re going to get laughed off of Capitol Hill.”
Warren Township Mayor Victor Sordillo, however, decided to use his time to tell a few jokes and praise every single other candidate.
“I may not be the most politically savvy candidate, but I will tell you I’m the most polite,” he said.
Meanwhile, Scotch Plains Mayor Marty Marks, who got 17 votes tonight, said that he plans to continue his candidacy and, with Sordillo’s departure from the race, he’s the only remaining candidate.
“It reminds me of 2000, when three moderates split that vote and allowed the conservative, Mike Ferguson, to win,” he said.