Local Politicians Weigh in On Presidential Race

March 17, 2016
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trtplaceholderblue-wBy John Burton

Hillary? Trump? Ted? Current long shot John Kasich? Do many in Monmouth County “Feel the Bern”? It seems those who follow this stuff closely in Monmouth County on so many levels on either side of the political aisle are expressing much of the same conflicted emotions as other around the country.

Some political party municipal committee chairs—who help orchestrate their little corners of the big political picture, helping select local candidates, strategizing, and so on—offered their views and those of their committee members as they watch the national show play out.

“I’m fascinated,” said Peter Carton, longtime Middletown Republican municipal chairman, as he watches the national party go through the throes of a highly and often bitterly contested contest to select its candidate to run for the highest office in the land.

“I’ve been involved in this for a long time,” Carton said, “and I’ve never seen an election quite like this.”

With real estate mogul Donald Trump making political inroads as a firebrand populist and traditional, mainstream conservative candidates continuing to fall by the wayside, Carton said he hasn’t settled on who was earned his support, nor has others municipal committee members he’s spoken to.

Carton was speaking earlier on Tuesday, before primary results were being reported, and he suspected that those results could sway support. “It’ll be intriguing and we’ll all be watching tonight,” he said.

Indeed, he was correct that the outcome could shift the race, with Florida U.S. Senator Marco Rubio crashing into an embarrassing defeat to Trump in his home state and suspending his campaign.

Carton’s Democratic counterpart in Middletown, Don Watson, was more pronounced in his support for his candidate, Hillary Clinton. “She has the most commonsense of all of them,” Watson stressed.

But support among his committee is fairly divided. “A couple of them are supporting Bernie (Sanders),” he observed, while others, “A lot of them haven’t voiced their support yet.”

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“It’s tough for any Democrat to win in Monmouth County,” he acknowledged. But Watson mustered his party loyalty, stressing “But I think we have a good slate of candidates,” for county offices on November’s ballot. “I think with Hillary at the top of the ticket we should do pretty good here.”

County Republicans conducted their convention on Feb. 18, selecting their slate of candidates. During that event the gathering had a straw poll, where some in attendance said Trump won pretty decisively.

Democrats on March 11 held their own “mini convention” to offer their list of candidates for Board of Chosen Freeholders, sheriff and U.S. House of Representatives. Their straw poll had a strong showing by Clinton.

That was all right with Red Bank Democratic Chairman Edward Zipprich. “When you talk to folks in the party there is as much passion for Hillary as there is for Bernie,” observed Zipprich, who will be a Clinton delegate for the Philadelphia convention. Of course, he offered, “It just depends on what group you’re talking to.”

“It’s kind of a mixed bag,” among his committee members who supporting whom, he said. And while Zipprich is clearly in the Clinton camp, he thinks Sanders has provided a valuable service. “Bernie has energized a lot of young people, which is kind of surprising, who hear his message,” he said. “Which is exactly what America needs for the next generation, to come along and get involved.”

Red Bank GOP Chairman Sean Di Somma, said on Tuesday “It it was today in New Jersey, I’d vote for Marco (Rubio),” conceding that may have to change on Wednesday morning.

Despite all the talk that Trump is divisive, Di Somma said he finds the rhetoric of Sanders and Clinton equally so. “I look at it, and quite frankly, some of it is equally absurd as some of Donald Trump’s” such as Sanders contention “trying to give away everything for free and dividing up the country.”

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Who would Atlantic Highlands Republican Chairwoman Jane Frotton want for president? “Can I vote for Ronald Reagan?” she joked. “Can we bring him back?”

Frotton has yet to make up her mind and hears differing opinions from local and county committee members. She thinks Trump “probably would” make a good president, but must first “quiet down a little bit, not be so rough.”

And like others have said about the theater that has evolved from this campaign, Frotton said “I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like this.”

Rhonda “Randi” Le Grice, the Atlantic Highlands Democratic chair as well as the new mayor, is “still conflicted and undecided.” But a motivating factor “I feel like I just can’t let Trump be our president. That’s where I’m coming from personally.” And she expressed concern that Sanders couldn’t beat Trump, leaving her with only one option.

“Sometimes it feels like you’re voting more against someone than for someone,” she conceded.

All the talk of a Republican broker convention where there is no decisive front runner to secure the nomination wouldn’t be a bad thing, Di Somma maintained.

“We’re almost a little too polished and corporate in the way we select our presidents,” in recent decades. A wide open contested convention in Cleveland would be reminiscent of 40-50 years ago, but done much more publicly than those days—and would be good for his party, Di Somma suspected. “I don’t think anybody should run away from a floor fight,” he said.

And with New Jersey’s primary in June, fairly late in the game, it isn’t usually a factor in the candidate selection. But with 51 delegates in the offing, “It could be critical”, this year, Carton suspected.


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