OCEAN COUNTY, NJ — A Republican Party divided can still garner victory most times in Ocean County — even if it comes down to a floor fight.

Commissioner Gerry Little’s announced retirement from the county board attracted more than a dozen candidates seeking to replace him. The total of 13 might sound a bit unlucky to anyone with superstitious inclinations.

All thirteen candidates appeared before the Ocean County Republican Screening Committee last month seeking a nod in their favor.  A recommendation from the GOP elite has often predicted the primary line winner after a tally of the convention ballots.

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Little Egg Committeewoman “Bobbi Jo” Crea came out the victor of the coveted endorsement from the screening committee. Many of her opponents easily admit that Crea is an amazing person. As a result, some have abandoned the commissioner’s race this time around.

Not all of the candidates responded to our contact request. Ocean Township Board of Education President Shawn Denning plans to support Crea’s nomination. Neither former Point Pleasant Beach Mayor Stephen Reid nor Pine Beach Mayor Lawrence Cuneo plan to accept nominations from the floor.

“I got a call saying that one of the other candidates was saying I dropped out,” said Lisa Hodgson-Henson of Surf City. “He was looking for my support.”

Hodgson-Henson set the other candidate straight. She plans to accept a nomination from the floor and believes she has a lot of support from her area. Little hails from Surf City as well, and other locals have suggested it is important to retain the seat on the board.

Former Brick Township Councilman Michael Thulan. Sr. says he expects a nomination for County Commissioner next week. He is not stopping there if he fails to secure the primary line after the votes are tallied.

“If I do not receive the county line, I will be running a primary campaign to run as a Republican candidate in the general election,” Thulan shared.

Intraparty strife within the Ocean County Republican Party is not exactly the best kept secret. Many refer to it as a skirmish between current Chairman Frank Holman and his predecessor George Gilmore.

Gilmore relinquished his long-term position after he was found guilty of federal criminal charges. A presidential pardon puts him in a more prominent position to live up to his reputation as a “kingmaker.”

At least one other candidate is ready to battle for the party line for the Commissioner’s seat. Berkeley Township Councilman John Bacchione says with his own merits and Gilmore’s backing, he expects to win the convention. And – of course a place on the dais with the other commissioners.

“I have been good friends with George for the last two years,” said Bacchione. “I’ve known him for at least the last twelve.”

Bacchione said he became closer to Gilmore when other so-called friends “bailed out on him” during his legal issues. As a Roman Catholic, Bacchione decided his faith called upon him to come to the aid of someone with problems.

Those in the know say that Gilmore’s influence last year resulted in two convention victories that went against the recommendations of the screening committee.  

David Richter secured the most votes for CD-3 in Ocean County, but ultimately lost the race to Democrat incumbent Andy Kim. Rik Mehta defeated Hirsh Singh in the Republican primary for United States Senate.

The Toms River Republican Club carries the greatest number of votes at the convention, with the magic number of 13. Another issue is expected to arise when it is time to vote. Two separate Republican clubs now exist in the municipality. The race could boil down to which of the Toms River clubs’ ballots count when it comes to tallying the votes.

Ocean County Republicans traditionally select incumbents for their primary line. Toms River GOP President Geri Ambrosio has close ties to Gilmore and seemingly has no intention to back either incumbents Assemblyman Greg McGuckin or Assemblyman John Catalano.

The Ocean County GOP Convention convenes March 10, 2021, at 6pm at Toms River Intermediate East on Hooper Avenue. Only those eligible to vote will be admitted entry, while others wait for the results of another power play in Ocean County politics.

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