It was literally minutes after Bergen County Republicans won two freeholder seats that they started eyeing another prize.
"Now for the big one: county executive," said one Republican operative who often works in Bergen County from the Chris Christie Election Night victory party in Parsippany.
Two days after winning two freeholder seats in Bergen County – a prayed for shot in the arm for a county party that has spent the last several years on the brink of irrelevance- the talk in Bergen County Republican circles is who the party will run for the top office in 2010.
"A number of people have expressed interest. I'm hearing a lot of it informally. No one has officially come to me," said Bergen County Republican Chairman Bob Yudin, whose party could stand to receive a cash infusion now that donors see that they can win elections.
So far, three names pop up: County Clerk Kathleen Donovan, who ran in the 2006 Republican primary for the office but was defeated on the right by Todd Caliguire, who went on to lose the general election; Fair Lawn Councilman Edward Trawinski, who yesterday just won a second consecutive (and third overall) term in that heavily Democratic town; and former Hackensack Mayor Jack Zisa.
Since the Republicans appear to have some momentum, other potential candidates are expected to come forward. And with a GOP governor, Bergen Republicans will have an easier time raising money.
"It's a different ball game now that we've demonstrated we can win a couple county seats," said state Sen. Gerald Cardinale (R-Demarest), who has taken an active role in behind-the-scenes party politics.
Assemblyman David Russo (R-Ridgewood), long rumored to be interested in the post, told PolitickerNJ.com that he will not run.
Trawinski is thinking of running, but a number of factors weigh heavily on his decision. Moreover, he probably won't run if Zisa or Donovan do.
Zisa, Trawinski said, is a close friend of his. And Donovan is a potent political player in her own right.
"I would support Kathe in a heartbeat" said Trawinski. "I personally believe that Kathe's track record shows she can win in Bergen County, even in the Obama landslide."
Donovan — a four-term county clerk, former assemblywoman and even briefly the state Republican Party chairwoman – was the top vote getting local candidate in last year's presidential election. As Democrats came to win office after office in Bergen County under the leadership of former Chairman Joseph Ferriero, she held on and became the last Republican bulwark against complete Democratic county-wide dominance.
Democrats say that Donovan is the last candidate they want to run against next year. But they can take solace in the fact that she's tried twice to run for the county's top office but was rebuffed by her own party. In 2002, she didn't make it past the convention, and in 2006 she ran off the line and was narrowly defeated by Caliguire, who lost the general election by a wide margin.
Donovan told PolitickerNJ.com today said she would probably start thinking seriously about the prospect of running again after Thanksgiving.
"It's too early for me to make any decisions on that. I have no thought of it yet. Sure, people have mentioned lots of things" she said. "I was delighted that [Republican Freeholder candidates John Driscoll and Rob Hermansen] won, and I've been just talking about them about things they need to consider doing."
Democrats are more certain who their pick will be: two-term incumbent Dennis C. McNerney. McNerney plans to run again, and if there are any Democrats hoping to oust him in a primary or convention contest over his close ties to convicted former Democratic chairman Joe Ferriero, they've kept quiet about it so far.
"Any innuendo or any overture that Dennis is going to have a hard time getting the nomination is bull," said Bergen County Democratic Organization Executive Director Matt McHale.
"The Republican Party, while yes they have picked up two seats on the freeholder board, are going to have a hard time unseating Dennis McNerney. He's popular, he's well-liked, he's progressive. He's the everyman of Bergen County," said McHale. "We're not going to go quietly into that night."