Bergen County Republican freeholder candidates John Driscoll and Rob Hermansen will appear on the ballot together in November, but you won't find the two paired up in many other places.
The two candidates say that they consciously avoid making joint campaign appearances, focusing instead on spreading out to tackle each of Bergen County's seventy municipalities.
"Basically, we have split up to attack the county as much as we can," said Driscoll, a tobacco salesman from Paramus. "I think Rob hit it right when he said ‘if we're seen together, we're doing something wrong.'"
But privately, Bergen County Republicans admit that the split between Driscoll and Hermansen is more than geographical. Although they have both separate and joint campaign accounts, they have separate Web sites that look nothing alike. They have different knickknacks to give out at events, and their campaign literature sometimes mentions their running mates only fleetingly. They even have different campaign managers — Deirdre Woodbyrne for Hermansen, and John Gil for Driscoll.
Although Democratic incumbent freeholders Julie O'Brien and Vernon Walton have separate Web sites, their campaigns are more tightly wound and officially managed by Bergen County Democratic Chairman Michael Kasparian. The party's executive director, Matt McHale, runs the day-to-day operations.
While the two Republicans express admiration for each other, they have divergent campaign strategies.
Driscoll has focused more on retail campaigning, and is more in tune with Bergen County Republican Chairman Robert Yudin, while Woodbyrne and Hermansen have chafed at what they see as campaigning as usual for Bergen Republicans. Instead, they want to focus on a larger new media strategy.
"After last year, the campaign strategy is completely different than it has been in the last decade. We need to focus more on the computer, more on Facebook and Twittering, and people getting on message," said Hermansen.
Hermansen, a Mahwah councilman, acknowledged that the two campaigns could use more coordination – especially this year, when outside political forces are shaping up to make this year the best chance Bergen Republicans have at winning at least one freeholder seat in six years.
"The goal here in Bergen County should not be to just get one of us elected, and I believe that if we are doing something that people that makes people think we are not running together, that could hurt us," he said.
Driscoll and Hermansen actually did see each other yesterday at the Bergen County Senior Picnic, though some insiders noted that the stickers and bags Driscoll was handing but had only his name on it.
The split also has roots in a spring court battle between Woodbyrne and Yudin in over whether Yudin should automatically be named the freeholder candidates' official campaign manager, while allowing someone else to run the campaign's nuts and bolts operation.
Woodbyrne, however, professes that she and Yudin have "a great working relationship."
"People want to say that there's division, but we have to be united to get the top of the ticket elected, the middle of the ticket elected and the local candidates elected. At the end of the day, all the local candidates have to be united to win in November," she said.
Yudin, for his part, said he completely supported both candidates and was not afraid that the appearance of intra-party disagreement would scuttle their chances.
"Any residual out there you would perceive as a negative, that's only among insiders," he said. 99.9% of the people who vote in the general election are apolitical. Their only political connection is they go out and vote on Election Day."