SOMERVILLE, NJ - There was a carnival atmosphere at the campaign headquarters of Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli Monday in downtown Somerville. Enthusiastic volunteers made phone bank calls while supporters decorated Main Street with "Jack" lawn signs and balloons. As the phone calls ceased, the standing-room only crowd gathered and waited for the candidate.
To a person, they all believe that Ciattarelli will win the GOP nomination for Governor.
Somerville has been the birthplace of upset victories in Republican primaries. Millicent Fenwick, Ray Bateman, Mike Pappas and Christine Todd Whitman all emerged in their turn from Somerset County to surprise the New Jersey political world by snatching high-profile primary wins.
Ciattarelli's political director, Brittany Wheeler, worked the crowd like a veteran. "We're going to win tomorrow," she said with confidence.
If Wheeler is right, then it would be an upset victory. Ciattarelli didn't register in the polls when he began. He was 28 points behind Lt. Governor Kim Guadagno, and nearly as far behind comedian Joe Piscopo.
Former Somerset County GOP Chair Dale Florio was the first to rally the crowd tonight. Florio, who led the party through two decades, told the crowd, "tomorrow we will make history."
The room was full of volunteers, many of whom are first-timers. Scattered among the true believers were some of the elected officials that have supported Ciattarelli: Senator Kip Bateman, Somerset County Freeholders Pat Walsh, Mark Caliguire and Peter Palmer, Hunterdon County Freeholder John Lanza, Somerville Mayor Brian Gallagher and Bernards Township Committeewoman Carol Bianchi all joined Ciattarelli on the eve of the election.
The mood in the room belied the conventional wisdom that Guadagno has the GOP nomination all sewn up. There was banter among friends about the success they had enjoyed knocking on doors and making phone calls to prospective voters. There were whispers about counties and towns and hamlets where they believed that they would win. And to a person, they believed that victory was ahead.
"This has been a total team effort," said Ciattarelli to the eager crowd. "I announced my candidacy eight months ago, and I have thoroughly enjoyed this campaign. We have the right message and a great team, and after we win tomorrow I will be right back out there Wednesday morning campaigning."
The polls open Tuesday at 6 a.m. Ciattarelli will host an election night party at the Bridgewater Manor. The doors will open at 7:30 p.m.