PolitickerNJ.com’s Top Ten Contests of the Last Five Years: Honorable Mention

Honorable Mention Kevin O’Toole def. Todd Caliguire, 2007 40th Legislative District Republican Primary O’Toole was a senator in a past

Honorable Mention

Kevin O’Toole def. Todd Caliguire, 2007 40th Legislative District Republican Primary

O’Toole was a senator in a past life, short-circuited by redistricting and forced back into the Assembly, where he raised over a hundred thousand dollars. Come 2007, incumbent Sen. Henry McNamara told O’Toole he was retiring. “I’m getting out of the race,” he told his 40th District ticket-mate. O’Toole asked him, “Will you support me, as per your promise?” When McNamara didn’t commit, O’Toole said that night he hired every Republican gunslinger out there, among them Rick Shaftan, Roger Stone, Dave Murray and Thom Ammirato.

The other GOP challengers in the 40th District GOP Primary were Todd Caliguire, a former candidate for governor and county executive, and Victor Rabbat.

It didn’t take long for O’Toole’s main opposition, Caliguire, to self-destruct. The candidate attempted a mail campaign that backfired badly, comparing O’Toole to the Republican version of Al Sharpton, ludicrously complaining that O’Toole’s Korean heritage protected him during redistricting.

That gave O’Toole the moral high ground as he rained mail as part of a quarter million dollar campaign effort and did a district-wide knock and drag.

He even enlisted former Ronald Reagan campaign manager Charlie Black to endorse him.

Off the line in Bergen, the Essex-based O’Toole won, crushing Caliguire district-wide 54-40%. A day later, owning Caliguire’s dreadful effort, Bergen County Republican Chairman Guy Talerico resigned.

Hillary Clinton def. Barack Obama: 2008 NJ Democratic Primary

This was one of the great epic contests in the last five years. In her bid for the presidency, Clinton lined up nearly every Democratic elected official in the state, starting with Gov. Jon Corzine. Obama had ragtag grassroots backing, U.S. Rep. Steve Rothman (D-9), Newark Mayor Cory Booker, Jersey City Mayor Jerry Healy and state Sen. John Adler among them. As their famously contentious contest intensified coming out of Iowa and Obama grew stronger with his win there, the future president landed other key endorsements, including Senate President Richard Codey (D-27), who had originally backed John Edwards. The party establishment appeared under siege in the cities as it stood by Clinton. She prevailed ultimately – comfortably – 54-44%, but not before badly scaring the establishment and on her way to losing the primary nationwide.

Leonard Lance def. Linda Stender: 2008 7th Congressional District General Election 

With the retirement of U.S. Rep. Mike Ferguson (R-7) in the face of another certain onslaught by Assemblywoman Stender, Lance, the GOP Senate minority leader, faced the financially well-heeled Democrat from Union County. Stender tried to make the race about women’s issues, which didn’t cut it against the moderate Republican, who had weathered a bruising primary. Lance beat Stender convincingly on Election Night in one of the only good news stories for Republicans on the same night that Barack Obama beat John McCain for the presidency.

Wilda Diaz def. Joe Vas: 2008 Perth Amboy Mayor’s Race

This one would certainly make a list of top ten upsets. Mayor Joe Vas was a local legend, a regular wharf front Zampano whose strong man tactics literally turned prematurely white the hair of men in his midst. Friendly neighborhood banker Diaz dared oppose Vas in a male vacuum in 2008, lopsidedly beating the incumbent and serving him up to state and federal law enforcement authorities, who packaged him up for the jailhouse on corruption charges.

Jeff Jones def. Joey Torres: 2010 Paterson Mayor’s Race

Like Wilda Diaz, Jones shocked the political establishment with his out of nowhere dunk of Mayor Torres in the 2010 Paterson mayor’s race. Jones’s entire ticket won, laying the groundwork for African American leadership of the majority Latino city.

Jay Webber def. Larry Casha: 2007 LD 26 Republican Primary

There was much made later of the pair’s meeting at Applebee’s, and Casha’s shake on a commitment to run a gentlemanly campaign. Whatever warm and fuzzy feelings Casha had heading into the primary, Webber didn’t cooperate, dismantling his adversary piece by piece, surgically, starting with Casha’s local record on taxes, leaving the Casha team to proclaim their promise to write legislation guaranteeing truth in advertising – just before Webber paved him over, separating Casha from his dream of the Statehouse.

Herb Conaway/Troy Singleton def. Jim Keenan and Chris Halgas: 2011 LD 7 General Election

Blown into the same foxhole together, the veteran Conaway and newcomer Singleton ran a solid race to beat back two Republicans backed by state Sen. Diane Allen (R-7), Gov. Chris Christie and the Burlington County Republican Organization.

Felix Roque def. Sal Vega: 2011 West New York Mayor’s Race

A medical doctor and Army colonel, Roque embodied the kind of stand-on-his-own-two-feet appeal absent in many machine politicians. No one gave him much of a chance as he trooped around West New York in combat boots, then ditched his Bentley in favor of a Smart car in an attempt to look less like Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous on wheels in the down on its heels town. But only Roque campaign manager Joe Demarco kept repeating it forcefully, that Vega was in a political death spiral owing to the whopping tax hike he implemented. Not even Paul Swibinski could save him, as he sank on Election Day and Roque won.

Jeff Van Drew def. Nick Asselta: 2007 LD 1 General Election

The Assemblyman rose out of the lower chamber finally to take on the incumbent Republican senator in the 1st district. A dentist who loves politics and campaigns, Van Drew added to his own brand with financial backing from George Norcross to soundly beat a tough incumbent with the backing of the AFL-CIO and other labor.

Peter Cammarano def. Dawn Zimmer: 2009 Hoboken Mayor’s Race

He would end up stripped of office and jailed, but on his way to briefly winning the mayor’s seat in city hall, Councilman Cammarano ran won of the best local campaigns in recent memory against two relentless and – one of them especially – well-funded opponents: Dawn Zimmer and Beth Mason.

Ras Baraka def. Oscar James: 2010 Newark South Ward Race

Mayor Cory Booker backed all the incumbent council people, but the South Ward became his Gettysburg, as he tried to hold off the Baraka insurgency with field marshal James. Booker couldn’t do it, though, and neither could his candidate, as Baraka won.

Chris Myers def. Jack Kelly: 2008 CD 3 Republican Primary

This was Ocean (Kelly) versus Burlington (Myers) counties, Ocean GOP mastermind George Gilmore against the behind the scenes tactics of former GOP Chairman Glen Paulsen, in a great Republican Primary for the right to take on John Adler. A Navy veteran, Myers finally won, then ended up years later embroiled in a sex scandal, combating an anonymous Internet accuser who told the world the failed congressional candidate and sitting mayor of Medford paid for sex.

Frank Lautenberg def. Rob Andrews: 2008 Senate Democratic Primary

Brendan Gill knew there was trouble when Andrews didn’t show up at Lautenberg’s election launch rally in Trenton. Not long after, the South Jersey Congressman announced at the Statehouse that Lautenberg failed to inspire, and Andrews would be seeking the Senate seat in the Democratic Primary. If Lautenberg’s hair could have turned any whiter at that point, it would have, but Andrews’ failure to knock over the north county dominoes and secure the line in Bergen, Essex, and Union counties after Steve Adubato’s endorsement left him clutching at the coattails of the Anthony Chiappones of the world on his way to getting localized in South Jersey and taking a beating from the octogenarian. The race did produce one incredible stunner: the friendly alliance of Woodbridge Mayor John McCormac and Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D-19) in support of Andrews’ losing candidacy. 

Rush Holt def. Scott Sipprelle: 2010 CD 12 General Election

Holt showed off his sharp-elbowed campainging skills in defeating a dogged Republican opponent in Princeton venture capitalist Scott Sipprelle at the height of the Tea Party revolution. 

Anna Little def. Diane Gooch: 2010 CD 6 Republican Primary

Gooch had glam on her side but Little came off the Highlands waterfront and broke her in half in a wholly Tea Party-endorsed efort that embarrassed the Monmouth County Republican etablishment.

Kathy Donovan def. Dennis McNerney: 2010 Bergen County Executive’s Race

Donovan demolished the Democratic Party incumbent and landed the GOP on the throne of Bergen County power. No, this wasn’t a Bergen County Republican Organization (BCRO) chairman’s race. It was the county executive’s contest,

Bob Gordon def. John Driscoll: 2011 LD 38 State Senate General Election

Gordon handily defeated his Republican opponent in a race that accomplished two things: let the state know that the Democratic senator from Fair Lawn is an intellectual heavyweight and proven winner, while exposing a Bergen Republican Party in the tatters of civil war.

Steve Oroho def. Guy Gregg: 2007 LD 24 GOP Primary

Occupying the smaller, Morris County portion of the district, Gregg – a Republican star in the Assembly – tried to move up against Oroho, hand-picked by the retiring Bob Littell.  PolitickerNJ.com’s Top Ten Contests of the Last Five Years: Honorable Mention