On the heels of his Friday endorsement of billionaire real estate tycoon Donald Trump, the allies of Gov. Chris Christie want to ding powerful Ocean County Republican Chairman George Gilmore while wrestling away a national party committee slot.
The situation is volatile.
Gilmore has long backed incumbent National Committeewoman Virginia “Ginny” Haines of Ocean County, appointed earlier this year to the Ocean County Freeholder Board, the second woman to serve on the board in the governing body’s 165-year history. Christie’s allies support Darlene Shotmeyer, a Bergen County State Committeewoman and wife of powerful Republican Party fundraiser Chuck Shotmeyer.
Sources told PolitickerNJ that Shotmeyer has been making calls for support since late last week as competition for the coveted national spot intensifies, an effort that roughly coincides with Christie’s announcement of support for Trump.
The Republican National Committee (RNC) currently has three voting members from New Jersey: Chairman Sam Raia, Committeeman Bill Palatucci (both of whom are close to the governor) and Committeewoman Haines (who is a close ally of Gilmore’s).
While the national media continues to circulate natural speculation about a Trump-Christie ticket, a New Jersey source told PolitickerNJ that Christie has voiced interest in a possible future chairmanship of the RNC. The national committee members vote on the national chairman, a post currently filled by wobbly Chairman Reince Priebus.
But more to the point, the Shotmeyer-Haines fight represents a backroom war for statewide party power going forward. Gilmore – an independent operator and heavy handed power broker – wants to maintain his firm hold on the GOP in the years after Christie has left the New Jersey stage and his intra-party antagonists seek a contest – any contest – to wound the South Jersey boss noted for juxtaposing bare knuckle politics with the strains of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons on his voice mail recording.
“A lot of folks are looking to dump her [Ginny] as a real message to him [Gilmore],” said a North Jersey GOP source.
Long the towering figure among county chairs in the Republican Party, Gilmore indirectly faces a challenge from those smaller statured rivals who will most be impacted by a Christie vacuum, who are looking to cudgel the Ocean County boss and weaken his longstanding behind-the-scenes hold on the throne of county party politics.
The chairs’ intentions ultimately have more to do with 2017 than 2016, as party power players are already lining up in support of the GOP’s candidates for governor, with Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno, Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick (R-21), state Senator Mike Doherty (R-23), Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli (R-16), Evesham Mayor Randy Brown and maybe Monmouth County Sheriff Shaun Golden all in early contention.
In the meantime, though, Christie’s support for Trump in the face of enormous establishment GOP backlash, including public excoriations of Christie by former New Jersey Governor Christie Todd Whitman (who said she’d vote for Hillary Clinton sooner than support the tycoon), former California Governor Meg Whitman, and South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, makes the swap out of Haines for Shotmeyer a natural as increased Christie-Trump world political ammo.
In the backrooms of the party, very few county chairs voiced support for Trump prior to Christie’s surprise endorsement of the tycoon in Texas last Friday. Cold sweat assessments of Trump’s down-ballot impact abounded prior to Friday. But in the aftermath, most of them have been making quiet preparations to fold in without argument. Whether of not Gilmore ultimately proves more cautious about leaping onto the Trump train, his powerful seaside perch has historically made him less apt to get easily pushed around.