Update: O'Toole, Davis and Steinhardt have reached an agreement, largely brokered by Gilmore. Davis and Steinhardt will support O'Toole for the chairmanship. Steinhardt will likely become vice-chair, while Davis will be treasurer of the group. DeMichele could become secretary.
Davis said that the new leadership slate will help ensure geographic diversity in the organization.
“I think Sen. O’Toole nad Doug Steinhardt will be the new faces of the Republican Party her ein New Jersey and show some promise for things about to come," he said.
Ocean County Republican Chairman George Gilmore, who announced yesterday that he would not seek another term as the chair of Republican chairmen, today supported Essex County Republican Chairman/state Sen. Kevin O'Toole (R-Cedar Grove) for the post.
Gilmore said that O'Toole has the support of enough of the state's 21 county chairs to easily ascend to the position.
"Kevin absolutely has the votes," said Gilmore. "One of the things I wanted to see was that it was a smooth transition."
Gilmore's support and vote count makes O'Toole the obvious favorite, but it's possible that he won't go unchallenged. Gilmore's decision not to run took many county chairs by surprise, and a short list of four names quickly emerged: O'Toole, Somerset County Chairman Dale Florio, Warren County Chairman Doug Steinhardt and Atlantic County Chairman Keith Davis.
Florio declined to run for the position, leading Gilmore to back O'Toole. Florio said today that he will support O'Toole if he's interested in running.
Steinhardt has reportedly hammered out a deal to become vice-chair, a position currently held by Hunterdon County Chairman Henry Kuhl, though it's not final.
"I am in it for the best interests of the party, and we'll see how that evolves as the day progresses," said Steinhardt.
Davis, however, said that he still hasn't ruled out seeking the position and will make a decision by Monday.
"I haven't decided to get in yet, but I'm talking to other chairs to see if there's some interest," he said.
The chair of chairs is an unpaid, thankless job on top of the unpaid, thankless job of being a county chairman. It adds the responsibility of coordinating between fellow chairmen, the Republican State Committee, and politicians – something that supporters say O'Toole is in a good position to do as a legislator.
"It does make sense, certainly with all that is coming out of Trenton. All of the opportunity being created for Republicans throughout the state as a result of a lot of bad judgment and positions that are being taken by the Democrats' leadership," said Assemblyman and Passaic County Republican Chairman Scott Rumana, who serves in O'Toole's legislative district. "Kevin can take that and spread it out form the county chairman, and they can distribute everything down to the municipal chairs and I really would hope spark more support in the public for our causes."
Although Gilmore cited personal reasons for leaving the post, Republican sources acknowledged that some county chairs were clamoring for a change in leadership, since they felt that party building in counties long dominated by Democrats had been neglected. But most county chairs reached today had nothing but praise for Gilmore.
"He's been a prolific fundraiser, someone who's been tremendously loyal to the party, and he's done a great job in terms of his leadership in Ocean County. It's very big shoes to fill," said Davis.
Gilmore noted that Republican bylaws dictate that the chair of chair's term is supposed to be limited to four years, although he's held the post for eight.
"Because of (the county chairs') graciousness I've stayed on for eight. I think it's time now rather than to ignore the provisions of the bylaws is to have an election. Obviously I'm not going to ask for the bylaws to be changed," he said.
Salem County Republican Chairman Paul Reed, who's only been in office for a year, said that he didn't know any of the contenders well, but would defer to Gilmore's choice.
"He's been an excellent chair of chairs and his recommendation for his successor is good for me," said Reed.
Hunterdon County Republican Chairman Henry Kuhl, Morris County Republican Chairman John Sette and Cape May County Republican Chairman David Von Savage all said that they will support O'Toole for the position as well.
"I think Kevin's a great choice and I fully support him," said Von Savage, who declined to seek the post from a vacation spot in New Mexico because it would force him to spend too much time away from his family.
Camden County Republican Chairman Rick DeMichele, however, said he wasn't sure who he was going to support for the post, and wasn't certain exactly who's running.
"It's hard to say it's a foregone conclusion," he said. "If it's between O'Toole and Davis, I don't think we can go wrong with either."