HILLSBOROUGH, NJ — Doug Steinhardt, chairman of the New Jersey Republican Party and candidate in the 2021 GOP Gubernatorial Primary, has dropped out of the race just one month after launching his campaign.
The abrupt announcement boosts the likelihood that Jack Ciattarelli, a Hillsborough resident and former state Assemblyman who kicked off his campaign one year ago, will win the GOP Gubernatorial Primary in June, and face off against Gov. Murphy in the November election for governor.
Two other declared GOP candidates, Hirsh Singh and Joseph Rullo, have not generated much enthusiasm, according to Tim Howes, chairman of the Somerset County Republican Organization.
Howes said Ciattarelli has been the acknowledged front-runner since declaring his candidacy at the Eisenhower Elementary School in Raritan, which he attended as a young boy.
"Certainly Jack was already enjoying front-runner status because of all the hard work he has put in, which makes him a prohibitive favorite," Howes said.
Ciattarelli said he was at a GOP function in Ocean County Monday night when he was told by those attending that Steinhardt had decided to quit the race.
Steinhardt, a staunch conservative and supporter of President Trump, circulated an email to supporters at 9 p.m. Monday night:
Last month I was thrilled to announce our campaign for Governor, and the positive response from grassroots activists and donors has been overwhelming. While our strong standing in this race makes this decision even more heartbreaking, unfortunately, unforeseen professional obligations have made it untenable for me to continue in this race as a candidate for Governor.
To everyone who supported our campaign, thank you. Your message was heard loud and clear, and you do have a voice. Together we will rise above, and we will ultimately Take Back New Jersey.
Thank you for all that you do,
Ciattarelli said he reached out to Steinhardt Tuesday afternoon but had not heard back from him.
"I hope Doug is comfortable in his decision and I thank him for his service to the Republican Party in New Jersey and his commitment to advancing the principles of the Republican Party," Ciattarelli said.
Ciattarelli declined to speculate on Steinhardt's abrupt decision, or whether his support of President Trump played a factor.
"My focus from the very beginning has been Phil Murphy and that doesn't change." Ciattarelli said. "I was confident all along that the team I've assembled and the effort we're putting in would produce a Primary victory," he said.
Ciattarelli has been campaigning hard for the nomination, beginning the day after GOP Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno lost to Phil Murphy in the 2017 general election.
His Republican pedigree includes time spent on the Raritan council, where he also served as mayor; he was a Somerset County Freeholder, and spent six years in the New Jersey Assembly representing the 16th District.
"The focus is on giving people of New Jersey a choice; I believe my ideas for fixing our broken state are going to get voters excited about New Jersey's future. The reception I've gotten up and down the state has been phenomenal," Ciattarelli added.
Steinhardt is a law partner with former Democratic Gov. Jim Florio at the firm of lorio Perrucci Steinhardt Cappelli Tipton & Taylor with offices in New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania.
A short biography of Steinhardt on the law firm's website puts heavy emphasis on his support for Trump.
"Doug served on President Donald J. Trump’s Presidential campaign National Finance Committee. After being named to NJ’s Electoral College delegation for President Trump, Doug served as counsel for Donald J. Trump for President, Inc. in the post-2016, general election, provisional ballot counts in Orange County, FL. Since the November 2016 general election, Doug has been a frequent visitor to the White House and Washington D.C. on various matters of client, political and legal interest."
The Steinhardt for Governor website proclaims:
"Doug Steinhardt is a conservative New Jersey Republican. He is pro-life, a Lifetime Member of the National Rifle Association and proud supporter of President Donald Trump."
Howes said Steinhardt's strong association with Trump hurt his chances.
"He had built a plan, a good team and had only been in it for a month but it was really the right answer for Doug and the Republican Party," Howes said. "I think he was going to struggle in a general election because of ot the negative public feeling in New Jersey about Trump.
"What happened last week in the Capitol made it worse to the point where it would have interfered with fundraising," Howes added. "He's a good man, a good guy, but he was running as the Trump candidate, so it doesn't surprise me. He recognized what the right thing to do was.
"I would hope Team Steinhardt would rally around Jack and unite the party early in the year," Howes added.
Howes is also delighted that a lifelong Somerset County resident, born in Somerville, raised in Raritan, and living in Hillsborough will presumably be at the top of the ticket for November's election.
"I was hoping all along that he would be the nominee and help us here in Somerset County," Howes added. "It will help to put wind in our sails."
Republican committees in all 21 New Jersey counties will hold their nominating conventions virtually this year. Somerset County delegates will vote Feb. 17th, according to Howes.