Hamilton Council President Kelly Yaede has decided not to run for assembly in the 14th Legislative District, leaving Mercer County Republicans without a candidate in a district they hope to make one of the most competitive in the state.
“Right now I think there’s too much at stake for me to do otherwise,” said Yaede. “I ran two straight years for the position on the council, and it’s a job that I absolutely love, and I intend to continue to serve the people of Hamilton Township.”
Yaede’s decision has left party leaders scrambling to find candidates in time for the Mercer County Republican convention tomorrow night. One party source said that they might have to come up witha placeholder to extend their recruitment window, then switch them out when they find suitable candidates.
Yaede was considered the top choice to take on assembly incumbents Linda Greenstein (D-Plainsboro) and Wayne DeAngelo (D-Hamilton). Another top recruit, former State Trooper Jim McSorley, who ran for sheriff last year, opted against running earlier this month.
According to several sources who were present, Yaede was even introduced by gubernatorial candidate Chris Christie as the Republicans' District 14 assembly candidate at a recent political event.
Republicans in Middlesex County, which has five towns in the district, plan to vote on a candidate at their party's convention on Saturday.
The 14th is a traditional swing district and has bipartisan representation in the state legislature, with Greenstein and DeAngelo in the assembly and Bill Baroni (R-Hamilton), a moderate who is not up for reelection until 2011, in the state senate.
DeAngelo, a freshman who narrowly defeated Hamilton Councilman Tom Goodwin in 2007, is considered the more vulnerable member of the Democratic ticket. Governor Corzine's low poll numbers among families of state workers, who make up an important voting bloc in the district, gave Republicans even more hope of picking up a seat.
The news that Yaede is not running surprised local Democrats, who said that their internal polls showed her running stronger than other Republicans. Mercer County Democratic Chairman Richard McClellan did not hide his happiness at not having to run against her.
“Kelly Yaede has been a strong candidate. In fact, she has polled better than any of her colleagues on the Hamilton council. The numbers she gets from recognition and approval is almost three times what her colleagues get,” said McClellan. “Although it would make an interesting race, I wouldn’t be too upset if she wasn’t in the race.”
Mark Duffy, a Republican operative who’s heading up state Republicans’ legislative recruitment efforts, said that Yaede and McSorley were indeed the GOP’s top recruits, but that their absence from the race does not mean the district will be an easy keeper for Democrats.
“Those were the ideal candidates form our perspective, but there is still time for us to recruit credible candidates because this is a district we can pick up two seats in,” he said.
Mercer County Republican Chairman Roy Wesley echoed those sentiments.
“While I regret that Kelly made the decision not to run, I believe that with the right candidate, we can win, and we’re going to take the time we need to find that candidate," he said.