By Jim Ellis
Feb. 8, 2018 — House Appropriations Committee chairman and New Jersey Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen’s (R-Morristown) surprise retirement announcement last week was initially met with cheers from the national Democratic establishment and local rank and file. As an open seat, they believed their conversion chances were growing even stronger. But, it appears that local Republican leaders are very quickly working to build support for a contender who may well become a consensus GOP candidate as soon as next week.When Rep. Frelinghuysen decided not to seek a 13th term, state Sen. Joe Pennacchio (R-Montville) immediately indicated that he would become a congressional candidate. Almost as quickly, neighboring Assemblyman Anthony Bucco (R-Randolph) followed suit. But, Assemblyman Jay Webber (R-Parsippany), who also represents the 26th Legislative District (as does Sen. Pennacchio), is now coming to the forefront as the man to beat in the GOP primary.
Upon Assemblyman Webber entering the race — who is a former New Jersey Republican Party chairman — Sen. Pennacchio quickly bowed out; Bucco also is sending signals that he, too, will soon exit. This leaves only attorney and first-time candidate Martin Hewitt remaining as an opponent for Webber.
Democrats were targeting Frelinghuysen, pointing to the fact that President Trump carried only the 11th District — originally drawn to be a decidedly Republican seat — by just a single percentage point, 49-48 percent. The district has been trending a bit more Democratic since it was first drawn. Compare the Trump numbers to both Mitt Romney and John McCain’s identical 52-47 percent showings. (The McCain numbers were re-configured into the territory comprising the current 11th CD, not the one existing in 2008. The previous seat was four points more Republican.)