Incumbents ruled the day at the Morris County Republican Committee Convention over the weekend.
With the county now spread over three legislative districts after redistricting, the convention held at the County College of Morris on March 4 saw contested races in the 24th and 26th Legislative Districts to obtain the party line on the ballot for this June’s primary battle.
In the 26th Legislative District, State Sen. Joe Pennacchio was the victor over Morris County Commissioner Tom Mastrangelo by a 174-55 margin. For Assembly, Assemblyman Brian Bergen—his seat redrawn from the 25th—received the most votes from party members with 200. In second was incumbent Jay Webber with 165 votes; former Assemblywoman BettyLou DeCroce received 46 votes.
After his win, Pennacchio questioned Mastrangelo seeking the county’s backing, saying that “there’s a certain political psychosis – a detachment – that’s going on by my opponent. He just doesn’t get it. He sees a path to victory – that path to victory doesn’t exist. Perhaps some medication, perhaps some therapy – but certainly not the ballot box.”
Mastrangelo wrote on his Facebook page that despite the overwhelming result, he would continue on in his bid to beat Pennacchio.
“Over the next few months I look forward to reaching out to the people of Parsippany, Montville and the surrounding towns as I continue to campaign, work hard and be the strong voice for the people,” he wrote. “Pennachio may be the choice of very few political party insiders but I am a political outsider who has consistently been elected by the people and proud to continue my fight for the people. See you in the June Primary!”
DeCroce, who as incumbent surprisingly lost at the convention two years ago, said she will continue her campaign without party support. DeCroce lost her off-the-line Assembly re-election campaign in 2021 to Assemblyman Christian Barranco, who flopped districts with Bergen for the 2023 race.
“It’s on,” DeCroce said in a statement after the convention. “We are going to a primary race in June. The 26th district desperately needs effective conservative representation in Trenton. That’s what I offer to voters. Conservative women don’t whine—we work.”
No Challengers in 25th
For the 25th, State Sen. Anthony Bucco, slated to become the party’s leader in the upper chamber next term, along with Assembly members Aura Dunn and Barranco were not challenged.
While the 25th (18 of 19 towns) and 26 (12 of 15 towns) legislative districts take up most of Morris County, the new map now has a greater presence for the 24th—now including Mount Olive, Netcong, Washington, Roxbury and Chester.
The race for State Senate in the 24th, since State Senate Minority Leader Steve Oroho (R-24) announced he would not seek re-election, has been heated between Assemblyman Parker Space and former Bogota Mayor Steve Lonegan.
Space Slate Wins
Morris County Republicans voted to back the slate of Space and his running mates seeking Assembly seats— Sussex County Commissioner Dawn Fantasia and Chester Township Mayor Mike Inganamort.
Space received 80 votes compared to Lonegan’s 14. In the Assembly race, Inganamort, the only Morris resident in the race, finished first with 78 votes, followed by Fantasia with 69. As for Lonegan’s running mates, Warren County Commissioner Jason Sarnoski recorded 25 votes and Lafayette Board of Education President Josh Aikens 17.
Inganamort said his agenda if elected to the Assembly would include fighting for a parent’s bill of rights, scrapping the school funding formula, defending the Second Amendment, looking to roll back abortion rules enacted by Democrats and economic platform that includes eliminating the marriage-penalty tax and making the first $50,000 of small-business income tax-free.
“The state of New Jersey has lost its damn mind,” Inganamort said. “I say that not only as a Morris County mayor, but as a property taxpayer who’s getting pummeled. Together, we’re going to fight back. We have the same conservative values and a proven record.”
After the results, Lonegan continued to take issue with the Morris convention itself, claiming the rules did not sufficiently guarantee election transparency.
“The Morris County party failed President Trump, the Republican National Committee, the NJGOP, and every American fighting for election integrity,” Lonegan said in a statement. “Republican primary voters are crying out for leaders who will stand up and fight for clean, transparent elections. I was proud to do that today and I’ll continue doing it.”
Selen Beats DeGroot
Besides the Assembly and State Senate races, incumbent Morris County Commissioner Tayfun Selen defeated former congressional nominee Paul DeGroot and county committeeman Anthony Somma for the Republican organizational line. Selen received 62% of the, followed by DeGroot at 21% and Somma 17%.
Selen’s defeat of DeGroot, who did not commit to continuing his commissioner campaign, was a reversal of sorts as the two men ran against each other for the Republican nomination in the 11th congressional district last year.
Selen won the Morris Republican line for 2022 while DeGroot finished fourth. But DeGroot, a former Passaic County Prosecutor, carried the support of that county to win the party’s nomination. DeGroot would go on to lose to Rep. Mikie Sherrill by 15 percentage points.