Vineland businessman Sam Fiocchi said today will seek the Republican nomination for State Assembly in the first district, which is expected to be one of the most competitive legislative races of the year.
"It's just the state of affairs in New Jersey. I've been a small businessman," said Fiocchi, a Vineland resident who heads up a family run irrigation company. "It's difficult to operate in this business environment, and I'm a Republican. I always felt if you want to make change, you have to step up and do something about it."
Three Republicans have submitted letters of intent to party leaders of the three counties that make up the southernmost legislative district in New Jersey. They'll compete for two spots on the county lines to take on incumbent Democrats Nelson Albano (D-Vineland) and Matt Milam (D-Vineland).
The district is politically competitive, and both parties view Albano and Milam as vulnerable, especially without the benefit of State Sen. Jefferson Van Drew (D-Dennis) at the top of the ticket.
Michael Donohue, an attorney from Cape May County who came close to winning an assembly seat in 2007, is running and is expected to have no problem securing the party nod. The real competition will likely be between Fiocchi and Upper Township Committeeman Frank Conrad.
Conrad also submitted a letter of intent in 2007, but chose not to run to make way for Donohue and his then-running mate, Norris Clark. Earlier this month, Conrad told PolitickerNJ.com that he had not yet committed to running this time.
Cape May County Republican Chairman David Von Savage thinks, however, that Conrad will run.
"I believe that Conrad is a serious candidate who is intent on gaining the endorsement and the nomination," he said.
Von Savage, the chair of the dominant party of the district's dominant county, said that Conrad's home field advantage is hard to ignore when recommending candidates to his own county committee.
"Cape May County is traditionally a Republican stronghold. It delivers the vote time in and time out. Before Republicans with a sizable majority, there's no doubt that Conrad and Donohue, being from Cape May County, add an incentive for voters to support the Republican ticket in November," he said. "There is an element of the favorite son status that factors into the voters' mind of how they're going to cast their ballot come November, and I don't think that can be discounted."
The other school of thought is that, with the two incumbents from Democratic-leaning Cumberland County, a Cumberland Republican could help keep that county close while a Cape May Republican could turn out home county votes. Other Republicans, however, believe that support from Cumberland native U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R-Ventnor) for two Cape May candidates will suffice.
Whether or not Fiocchi has the ability to partially self-fund his candidacy could also influence some party leaders. Fiocchi, however, said that he's not ready to comment on that yet.
While Donohue and Conrad may be able to depend on Cape May's well-oiled Republican machine, Fiocchi's local party is in crisis, having been swept out of two constitutional offices and a freeholder seat last year. But Fiocchi said he actually sees that as an advantage, with his party on the cusp of revival.
"We're building such a strong organization from the ground floor that's really going to take off. I'm so happy to be a part of it and see it happen," he said. "Actually, I think it's an advantage because we have a renewed energy and purpose."