Pro-Trump challenger enters NJ governor’s race

Gun Rights

Dustin Racioppi
| Trenton Bureau

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Republican Party Chairman Doug Steinhardt announced Friday he is running for governor in next year’s contest, pitching himself as a pro-Trump, gun-toting Everyman who will shake up the political class in the state capitol. 

In a two-minute video posted on Facebook, Steinhardt touted his deeply conservative bona fides while promoting himself as just the type of outsider needed to cure the ills of a state that has swung too far to the left under Gov. Phil Murphy. 

“I’m not a politician at all,” said Steinhardt, who has been involved in politics for 20 years as mayor of Lopatcong and chairman of the Warren County Republican Committee in addition to the state party.

“Face it: New Jersey is in a bad spot because politicians avoided making tough decisions. These politicians are all part of the same club and they did the easy thing for them,” he went on. “We have a lot of work to do together to change that. Most importantly, I’ll take power away from Trenton’s politicians and give it back to you.” 

Republican challengers

While Steinhardt took aim at Murphy as a tax-and-spend liberal in his announcement, his immediate challenge will be former Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli for the party’s nomination next June. And that is a contest that will likely steer the direction of the Republican Party in the wake of Donald Trump’s presidency.

Ciattarelli, of Somerset County, earned a reputation as a pragmatic conservative with a business background that would serve the fiscal interests of residents in a state burdened by debt and high taxes. But like so many Republicans, Ciattarelli has struggled to balance classic conservatism with appealing to a party increasingly loyal to a president who often flouts traditional party principles. 

Ciattarelli had called Trump a “charlatan” when he was a candidate for president, though he has since attended some of Trump’s rallies. 

Steinhardt did not name Ciattarelli in his video, but his message seemed clearly aimed at him.

“Some cut and run from our president in tough times, hoping he wouldn’t notice, while others were never there in the first place,” Steinhardt said. “That’s not the kind of guy I am. You’ll always know where I stand.”

The story continues below the video.

Steinhardt For Governor Launch

Big news: I’m running for Governor. We finally have a real conservative ready to take the fight to Phil Murphy. If you believe family is worth fighting for and are ready to take back New Jersey – watch my video below.

Posted by Steinhardt for Governor on Thursday, December 10, 2020

Steinhardt’s announcement came two days after Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick, another middle-of-the-road Republican who had been considering a run for governor, announced he would not seek the nomination because he didn’t see an opening for him in the current atmosphere. Two recent polls showed three quarters of Republicans in New Jersey and nationwide believe Trump won the 2020 election over Joe Biden, though he clearly lost and Biden is the president-elect. 

Any Republican running for governor is likely to face headwinds in the general election against Murphy, who at this point has no challenger. Murphy has high approval ratings and registered Democratic voters outnumber Republicans by more than 1 million.

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However, no Democrat has won a second term in four decades and, with a large number of unaffiliated voters, New Jerseyans have typically bucked larger state trends when selecting a governor. Christie is the most recent example: He defeated incumbent Democrat Jon Corzine in 2009, one year after New Jersey voted for Barack Obama as president. 

Another pro-Trump Republican, Hirsh Singh, is also seeking the nomination but he has fared poorly in recent contests for elected office. 

Capturing Trump voters

Steinhardt, a former Eagle Scout and college football player, seems well-positioned to capture the support of Trump voters in New Jersey. He has deep roots in rural, Republican Warren County and said he is proudly pro-choice and a card-carrying member of the National Rifle Association.

Steinhardt projects a family man image in his video: driving a Chevy pickup truck, walking through the woods with a shotgun on his shoulder alongside his son and highlighting that he still has Sunday family dinners with his parents 

A graduate of Gettysburg College and Widener University Law School, Steinhardt is also a law partner, along with Democratic former Gov. Jim Florio, at the firm Florio Perrucci Steinhardt Cappelli Tipton & Taylor. 

Steinhardt will soon step down from his position leading the Republican State Committee, a spokesman said.

Steinhardt’s campaign will reportedly be managed by Bill Stepien, the alumnus of Chris Christie’s two successful campaigns who led Trump’s failed re-election bid. The Democratic State Committee said Stepien “personally directed the president’s assault on American democracy itself” and Steinhardt’s selection of him should show voters all they need to know. 

“In a Republican Primary contest to see who can be the Trumpiest, Doug Steinhardt enters the race for governor as a brazen defender of Donald Trump and his failed record in New Jersey politics,” the committee’s executive director, Saily Avelenda, said in a statement. 

She added: “The truth is New Jersey voted overwhelmingly last month to defeat Trump and reject his brand of corrupt, dishonest politics and we will never allow one of our state’s biggest Trump supporters to become governor.”

Dustin Racioppi is a reporter in the New Jersey Statehouse. For unlimited access to his work covering New Jersey’s governor and political power structure, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.


Twitter: @dracioppi 

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