PolitickerNJ has exclusively learned that Olympic Bronze medalist Tom Wilkens is preparing to challenge Congressman Frank Pallone in 2018. According to a well-placed source within the Monmouth GOP, Wilkens, a former Middletown Committeeman, would enjoy the support of the powerful county GOP the moment he declares.
Since first winning the seat in 1988, Pallone has seldom experienced much competition for the Democratic-friendly 6th District. In that first race, for what was then known as the 3rd district, Pallone defeated Republican State Representative Joe Azzolina 52%-47%. The only serious challenge he faced since then came in 1992 from State Senator Joe Kryillos, who lost to Pallone by a narrow 52-48 in a year in which Bill Clinton handily defeated George Bush atop the ballot.
Even in 2010, with the tea party producing possibly the most favorable environment ever for Republican challengers to entrenched Democrats, Pallone easily defeated tea party darling Anna C. Little, a former Monmouth County Freeholder, winning 55-43.
According to the Monmouth Country GOP source, Former mayor Wilkens is “a good guy, speaks to schools with his medal.” The Stanford graduate attended Christian Brothers Academy in Lincroft before going on to represent the US at the 2000 games in Sydney. He earned a bronze medal for his role in the 200-meter individual medley.
Pallone has seldom had to break a sweat in swatting down Republican challengers but he may be softened by a crushing US Senate primary loss to Cory Booker following Frank Lautenberg’s death in 2013. His solidly progressive image may have also taken a hit when it came to light that Pallone had taken $10,000 in contributions from the Mylan company — the maker of the EpiPen that faced withering criticism as the cost for its asthma emergency signature product soared nearly 400%. Pallone had grilled the company about the price increase, sending a letter demanding an explanation for the increase, but had accepted the donations just the same.
The Sixth District is comprised mainly of Monmouth towns but has significant chunks of Middlesex as well, including Edison, Hughland Park and New Brunswick.