Unanue in the race – and in New Jersey – says spokesman

TRENTON – Hounded by questions over the weekend about whether their candidate would indeed materialize as a public figure running for the GOP nomination to the U.S. Senate, the fledgling campaign of Andy Unanue today said he’s definitely in the race.

“I just filed the petitions,” Unanue spokesman Mark Duffy said this morning as he returned to State Republican Committee headquarters from the Division of Elections office.

While Unanue was unavailable to talk to the press or pose for pictures, Duffy said he had more good news.

“He’s in the state,” Duffy announced.

Even as he remained a man publicly defined as a hard-partying nightclub owner without a New Jersey address, the millionaire businessman’s absence on a family trip to Vail did not prove a stumbling block to winning county support these last few weeks since Anne Evans Estabrook left the Republican primary race.

Surrogates spoke on Unanue’s behalf and he won the organizational line in seven counties, including Cape May, Atlantic, Monmouth and Ocean.

Looking to the days ahead, “He will keep an aggressive campaign schedule,” Duffy said of his candidate.

Asked if any events have been scheduled, Duffy said, “none.” Asked if Unanue has staked out a locale for a campaign headquarters, Duffy said to date he had not, but that in the coming days he would.

The fact that some Republican leaders asked Unanue to step aside to make way for businessman John Crowley proved a moot point when Crowley dropped his bid this weekend, citing business obligations.

Duffy doesn’t think his candidate his been damaged – even in the aftermath of news that a number of party chairs on Saturday were prepared to dump Unanue for Crowley.

“He’s in now,” the campaign spokesman said in response to the Unanue story line.

But the question remains whether the candidate will be strong enough to shoulder a senate bid in the face of skepticism.

“The Republican leadership fell all over themselves getting behind this guy without knowing anything about him except that he’s got a ton of money,” said Dr. Patrick Murray, director of polling at Monmouth University. “It was also a naive assumption that because he’s Hispanic he will get Hispanic votes. There’s no evidence to suggest that. The Republican Party looks very disheveled at this point.”

The two other candidates in the Republican primary field digested news of the Unanue campaign’s petitions filing by cleaving to the respective messages they’ve been hammering out for weeks.

“I don’t know where Mr. Unanue stands on the issues,” said Dr. Murray Sabrin, professor of economics at Ramapo College, who filed his petitions this afternoon.

“He doesn’t have a track record of speaking out on radio and TV as I have the past 20 years,” said Sabrin.

The professor touted his own record of interpreting the U.S. Constitution and defending personal liberties and free market principles.

State Sen. Joseph Pennacchio (R-Morris) said the big money, self-funded candidates with no public statements about the issues America is confronting simply fuel an atmosphere of cynicism about politics.

“My candidacy is proof that the American dream is still alive,” said the Monville dentist who filed his petitions this morning before heading to the Statehouse to participate in the session today.

“The party leadership have told me average Joe’s need not apply,” Pennacchio said, “but I worked my butt off, took my case to rank and file Republicans and have won seven or eight county endorsements.”

Unanue in the race – and in New Jersey – says spokesman