Fair Haven Mayor Michael Halfacre had state Sen. Bill Baroni’s (R-Hamilton) endorsement for the Republican nomination to run against U.S. Rep. Rush Holt (D- Hopewell) in the 12th Congressional District.
Until Princeton venture capitalist Scott Sipprelle decided to run.
“I think Mike Halfacre is great. I think he’d make a great congressman,” said Baroni, who today formally endorsed Sipprelle and called him a “game changer.” “I have the opportunity, however, to have a Mercer County Republican go for Congress. I know Scott Sipprelle and I’m supporting him.”
Baroni’s withdrawal of support became apparent Wednesday night, when Sipprelle formally kicked off his campaign with a rally in Princeton.
Halfacre, who spent about a year toiling on the campaign trail unopposed by any fellow Republicans until Sipprelle’s interest in the race became known a few weeks ago, countered with press release listing dozens of elected and party officials who supported his candidacy. Baroni’s name – still trumpeted on Halfacre’s Web site – was gone.
“It’s not a statement on Mike’s candidacy. It’s not a statement on Mike in any way. I think the world of him. And if he is the nominee, I will work just as hard,” said Baroni. “I just think Scott Sipprelle’s background as a businessman and someone who can go down to Washington as a Congressman on day one and get to work.”
For Baroni, the clincher was the fact that Sipprelle is a fellow Mercer County Republican – not, he said, Sipprelle’s donation of $250,000 to his own campaign, or his pledge to match the first $1 million in donations.
But Sipprelle’s pocketbook has not hurt him with at least some of the people who will have a say in whether he will get the coveted county lines in the five counties that make up the district: Mercer, Middlesex, Monmouth, Hunterdon and Somerset (which has half of one town, Franklin, in the district).
“It’s very impressive. I think that it expresses confidence in his ability to wage an appropriate campaign,” said Hunterdon County GOP Chairman Henry Kuhl, who remains neutral. ” I have not taken any position at this time. Both candidates have met with me, they’re both impressive, and I think that this may be the year that the Democrat party’s votes are in trouble, and people, particularly unaffiliated voters, independent voters, are leaning towards the Republican Party.”
Although whoever wins the primary will have to take on a firmly entrenched, well-funded incumbent in a heavily Democratic district, Somerset County GOP Chairman Dale Florio said that money is not the be-all, end-all in what so far looks to be a favorable year for Republicans.
“Republicans and Republican-leaning voters are going to be very motivated this coming fall. Money’s going to be important, but it may not be as important as in the past,” he said.
For now, Baroni is the only Halfacre endorser who has publicly switched over to Sipprelle. There could be others, as most of Halfacre’s endorsements came before most of the district’s Republicans had heard of Sipprelle.
Whether Halfacre’s supporters stick with him will likely hinge on whether he can raise a significant amount of money or whether he’ll be unable to compete with Sipprelle’s deep pockets. As of December 30, Halfacre had taken in about $70,000, according to campaign manager Tom Fitzsimmons.
Far from watching Halfacre’s support erode, Fitzsimmons said it’s been reinforced by Sipprelle’s entrance into the race.
“I’ll tell you the truth: I think that Scott getting into the race has actually energized the people Mike has been speaking to already,” he said. “We’ve gotten phone calls from people who, I don’t want to specifically say are upset, but have called to reaffirm their support for Mike.”
Supporters of Halfacre include state Sens. Jennifer Beck (R-Red Bank) and Sean Kean (R-Wall); Assembly members Declan O’Scanlon (R-Little Silver), Caroline Casagrande (R-Colts Neck), and Mart Pat Angelini (R-Ocean Twp.); and Monmouth County Freeholders Rob Clifton, John Curley and Lillian Burry.
Fitzsimmons noted that Halfacre’s finance chair is veteran fundraiser Larry Bathgate, and said Halfacre did not go into fundraising mode earlier because he did not want to compete with the efforts of then-gubernatorial candidate Christopher Christie.
“We made a strategic decision, because in October people were completely consumed with the governor’s race,” said Fitzsimmons. “We made a command decision to focus our efforts on grassroots and getting out and meeting with people rather than asking people for money.”
Sipprelle, Fitzsimmons said, “has to spend all that money because he’s not going to have the organization and the support.”
“The comparisons are already out there. The Corzine thing is fresh in peoples’ minds.”