Lonegan camp plans to field primary challenger against DeCroce

Gubernatorial candidate Steve Lonegan’s campaign is actively seeking to recruit a candidate to take on Assembly Minority Leader Alex DeCroce (R-Morris) in the Republican primary, according to Lonegan strategist Rick Shaftan.

“There will be a primary against Alex DeCroce,” said Shaftan. “The candidate shall be named later, but there are three people who are looking to run.”

DeCroce, the assembly’s top Republican, is in charge of an assembly candidate recruitment effort that Shaftan called “inept and pathetic.”

“He’s the most inept leader on the Republican side imaginable. He’s just given up the fight and is just happy to be a big fish in a little pond,” said Shaftan. “If I were [Assembly Speaker] Joe Roberts, I’d be doing everything I can to make sure Alex stays in office. He’s Joe Roberts’ best friend in the state.”

Lonegan, the underdog in the gubernatorial primary race against the establishment-backed Chris Chris Christie, is not actively seeking to put together slates against anyone except DeCroce, according to Shaftan. But the campaign is accepting offers from candidates who want to run on Lonegan’s ticket, and Shaftan said that he expects about 18 state committee candidates to run with him.

Shaftan also said that Lonegan is not targeting DeCroce’s running mate, freshman Assemblyman Jay Webber (R-Morris), a conservative who backs Christie, and that he only plans run one candidate in District 26. Still, that scenario creates the possibility of Webber coming in third behind DeCroce and the candidate Lonegan puts up.

“Even though Jay is for now supporting the other guy, but we have no interest in that. Jay’s job is to make sure he doesn’t finish third,” said Shaftan.

Assembly Minority Executive Director Rick Wright, a political confidante to DeCroce, did not seemed fazed by the looming challenge.

"Two words to Rick Shaftan: Bring it," he said.

Republican political consultant Mark Duffy, who's working under DeCroce to recuirt assembly candidates this year, downplayed the relevance of Lonegan's campaign.

"Alex has faced primary challenges before and the voters sided with him because of his record and his leadership abilities," he said. "What ever else the Lonegan camp has to say about Alex personally is inconsequential. They are a divisive influence on the party, which has rejected their tactics before."

Update — Webber issued the following statement in support of DeCroce:

“Assemblyman DeCroce and I have been working closely together to defeat the Corzine tax-and-spend plan. Alex has been a true leader and friend, and I look forward to running as a team with him in the primary.” Lonegan camp plans to field primary challenger against DeCroce