Ocean County Republican Chairman George Gilmore met with ex-Eagles tackle Jon Runyan yesterday, who told him that he is "strongly leaning" toward running.
But Gilmore, who said he had a "nice conversation" with Runyan, is not sold on him as the candidate to take on freshman U.S. Rep. John Adler (D-Cherry Hill).
"This is nowhere near being over at this point," said Gilmore. "As a professional football player there's some name recognition. On the other hand, we don't know much about his background. He's never held elected office, never run for office. We don't know how he would handle a situation and a campaign," said Gilmore.
Gilmore is upfront about who his favorite potential candidate is: state Sen. Chris Connors (R-Lacey Twp), who already represents roughly half the congressional district in the legislature. Connors could not be reached for comment, but he told the Asbury Park Press yesterday that he is "not likely" to run.
If Runyan decides to run, he will likely to have the full support of the Republicans from Burlington County, which makes up a roughly equal portion of the congressional district as Ocean County. But even if Connors is out of the picture, Gilmore thinks a number of other candidates deserve consideration, including Toms River Councilman Maurice Hill and former Virginia "Ginny" Haines, a former assemblywoman and state lottery commissioner.
"I don't want those comments to be taken as being opposed to Runyan, because I'm not," said Gilmore. "He's a candidate that brings certain attributes and we have other candidates that bring other attributes."
Gilmore does not believe that the process is already spiraling towards a primary like in 2008, when the eventual nominee, Christopher Myers, had to spend half a million dollars that Republicans think could have been better spent against Adler in the general election.
But what if the two county parties are unable to agree on a candidate?
"We would all sit down and have a discussion…" said Gilmore. "Everybody realizes that it is not in anyone's best interest to have a primary fight."
Hill, a dentist who had a 35 career in the Navy and retired in 2005 as a rear admiral, screened for the position with Ocean County Republicans last year. Hill said he has an interview scheduled with Burlington County GOP Chairman Bill Layton within the next two weeks.
"I'm going to pursue it. I think I fit well for the job," said Hill. "I'm certainly not an NFL lineman… He has name recognition certainly in the Philadelphia area. But I would like to think people would look a little deeper than just name recognition for all the candidates."
Haines said she's discussed running with Gilmore but is uncertain. If she declines to run, she will support an Ocean County candidate.
Ocean County, which gave Republican Gov.-elect Chris Christie a 70,000 vote margin of victory over Gov. Jon Corzine two weeks ago, has never had a congressman who calls it home.
"If Chris Connors decides 100% he is not going to run, then I would throw my support 100% behind Moe Hill, because I feel he is the most qualified candidate after Senator Connors," said Haines. "We are a big county. We have a lot of votes. We feel that our time is coming, that Ocean County should have representation in Congress."