Longtime GOP Chairman faces challenge

After 28 years as Hunterdon County Republican Chairman, Henry Kuhl isn’t ready to call it quits.

Tomorrow night, Kuhl, who runs a commercial egg incubator corporation, will face the fourth challenge in his political career from 39-year-old Bloomsbury Mayor Mark Peck.

To Kuhl, the old cliché applies perfectly to his tenure as chairman: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

When Kuhl was first elected, the county had a Democratic freeholder and a Democratic Assemblywoman. Since then, Republicans have completed their domination, knocking off those two Democrats almost immediately after Kuhl took over and keeping and in subsequent years the area solidly under Republican control.

According to Kuhl, while Peck talks about increasing the number volunteers for the party, he hasn’t volunteered himself during his six years as a member of the county committee. He considers Peck’s bid an attempt at a “hostile takeover.”

“In the three counties – Hunterdon, Somerset and Ocean — which have long-term county chairmen who understand their jobs, we elect Republicans,” he said. “Some of the counties where there’s a hostile takeover and there’s another one after two to four years, this is where the opposition can make headway, because its’ quite a learning curve.”

But Peck, who’s serving his second term as mayor of Bloomsbury, fears that the opposition already is making headway. Many of the district’s staunchest Republicans are leaving for greener, less-taxed pastures in other states, while the newcomers aren’t necessarily default Republicans.

“We need to do aggressive outreach to the many new voters who have moved into the county in the last few years, most of whom are undeclared. We have not done a good job reaching out to them,” he said.

Kuhl doesn’t give out his age, preferring to merely say he’s “over 60.” And while Peck said that age isn’t the issue of the race, he does believe that he’s in more of a position to relate to the county’s newcomers.

“I think that there are plenty of older officials who do a fine job,” he said. “Sometimes it’s just when you’ve been in office for a long period of time, things get stale.”

In a letter to county committee members, Peck also pointed out that the party’s Web site hadn’t been updated since 2005 (most of the political Web sites it links to, like the one for Doug Forrester’s gubernatorial campaign, are now defunct).

“The question isn’t whether Henry has served the party well in his 28 years in services. The question is where are we today, not where we were in 1980. The party has no message, no energy and diminishing returns.”

Peck, however, faces an uphill battle. Kuhl has the support of state Senator and congressional candidate Leonard Lance – a popular figure in the county – along with Assemblywoman Marcia Karrow and three freeholders.

“According to my calculations, I expect to win handily,” said Kuhl.

Update: The Hunterdon County Republicans have set up a new Web site. Longtime GOP Chairman faces challenge