By Dennis “DJ” Mikolay
After several long (and largely uneventful) months, New Jersey’s Republican Senatorial Primary has finally come to a close, albeit the outcome has left many in the GOP scratching their heads. The absence of a front-runner during the waning days of the campaign assured that anything was possible, as there were scant few clues as to which candidate enjoyed the greatest popularity and approval, and it wasn’t unfathomable that any one of the contenders could emerge victorious.
Some of the more loyal partisans suspected Brian Goldberg, the race’s lone moderate, would receive the nomination by virtue of the fact he received the greatest number of county party endorsements. Others felt conservative activist Rich Pezzullo, who retained an upbeat and positive attitude a throughout the campaign, would manage to nab the nomination by channeling a cross-section of support from the Tea Party and other disillusioned Republicans. Still, there was speculation Murray Sabrin, a life-long advocate of libertarian economics, stood the best chance of winning due to his national fundraising capabilities and close alignment with Ron Paul’s movement.
Then there was Jeff Bell. The party’s 1978 Senate nominee, Bell ran a very low-profile campaign this time around, didn’t receive the endorsement of a single county party, appeared on the ballot without a slogan, and only recently moved back to New Jersey after spending three decades in Virginia. Certainly, Bell, who remained an articulate and knowledgeable voice within the party, had the potential to win the primary, but amidst the ensuing horse race, his campaign seemed largely overlooked, lost in the shuffle as the other three courted party leadership in each county.
Thus, the announcement that it was Jeff Bell who received the most votes and will now square off against incumbent Senator Cory Booker in November came as a surprise to supporters of the other candidates. A similar chorus has been echoed in many circles since last Tuesday: how did someone who ran such an invisible candidacy manage to win the Senate primary?
So unexpected was Bell’s triumph that Rich Pezzullo, who placed second, spent a good portion of the evening as the front-runner. Enthusiasm was tangible in the air at his campaign headquarters where many of his assembled supporters predicted victory was imminent. Indeed, it seemed the natural outcome.
Alas, it was not to be.
Whatever the case, the State of New Jersey is now entering a General Election campaign that will pit the former Reagan aide against superstar incumbent Senator Cory Booker. Though there were four candidates in the primary, Bell now heads forward with a surprising coalition comprised of the unified support of his former opponents. Rich Pezzullo, Brian Goldberg, and Murray Sabrin have all endorsed his candidacy, focusing on the issues upon which they agree, rather than those which divided them. It is a refreshing display of cooperation in a state where relations with former primary opponents often remain lukewarm until November.
Rich Pezzullo stated, via his Facebook, that: “We tried to run as positive a campaign as possible as well, and we stayed true to Reagan’s 11th Commandment. Thanks to these positive efforts, Jeff Bell can now enter the general election arena with positive momentum and a unified Republican Party.”
Similarly, in a June 4th press release, Brian Goldberg was quoted as saying, “As a strong supporter of the Republican Party, I wholeheartedly provide my endorsement to our chosen candidate, Jeff Bell, and I support him as he continues our party’s goal to empower individuals. “
Murray Sabrin, who spent the last few weeks of the campaign relentlessly attacking the conservative credentials of Pezzullo and Goldberg, also announced his endorsement.
And so the next chapter of the 2014 Senate race begins to unfurl. Over the coming weeks, it will undoubtedly be interesting to see how Bell frames the discussion with Senator Booker and to what degree he is able to amass support around the Garden State. Whatever the case, he is probably happy to put the primary season behind him, as is the GOP.