By Dennis “DJ” Mikolay
Though the race is still hotly contested and the party heavily divided, the Republican Party managed to inadvertently narrow its Senatorial primary field to four candidates earlier this week. In a surprising development, budget-hawk Robert Turkavage, a former FBI agent who was backed by the Hunterdon County GOP, failed to secure his anticipated spot on June’s ballot. Although the campaign collected the necessary number of signatures to qualify, they were not delivered to the Division of Elections before the filing deadline, effectively squelching his Senate bid.
Because there is still no clear frontrunner or party favorite, the absence of a fifth contender will almost certainly benefit the remaining Senate hopefuls, who can now vie for the votes Turkavage would have received. In a competitive race, this could mean the difference between first and second place. However, despite this, news of Turkavage’s withdrawal did not necessarily elicit joyous reactions, even from the other candidates. Rich Pezzullo, the conservative whose aggressive candidacy was recently endorsed by the Monmouth, Union, and Camden County Republican organizations, said he was saddened by the news his former opponent wouldn’t appear on the primary ballot.
“I have tremendous respect for Bob [Turkavage],” Pezzullo said. “I was disappointed to lose his voice in this important primary.”
Such mutual respect is rare in contemporary politics; however, thus far, the GOP Senate race has remained surprisingly civil. As of this moment, the Republican Party’s June ballot will be comprised of Jeff Bell, Brian Goldberg, Rich Pezzullo, and Murray Sabrin. All of these candidates are Right-of-Center on fiscal issues, with varying degrees of social conservatism.
With the Primary Election now only two months away, seven county parties have endorsed Goldberg as their chosen candidate. Similarly, Pezzullo has received the backing of three, while Murray Sabrin and Robert Turkavage were both endorsed in one county each (Middlesex and Hunterdon, respectively). Though Bell’s candidacy has remained largely off the radar, the former Republican nominee has some high-profile supporters, including Mayor Steve Lonegan, Gary Bauer, and Assemblyman Michael Patrick Carroll, which could bode well in his favor.
In other-words: amidst the sea of endorsements, county conventions, and Turkavage’s withdrawal, it’s still impossible to predict who will emerge from the primary victorious.