March 13, 2024

Candidates Gearing Up for High-Stakes Primary

By Donald Gilpin

National politics has been constantly in the news in this 2024 election year, and closer to home the political heat is rising, with the June 4 New Jersey primary on the horizon and the March 25 candidates’ filing deadline less than two weeks away.

The main attention-grabbing political item locally and throughout New Jersey has been the battle between Congressman Andy Kim and Tammy Murphy, wife of N.J. Gov. Phil Murphy, for the Democratic nomination to the U.S. Senate seat likely to be vacated by Sen. Robert Menendez, who is currently under federal indictment on corruption charges and has not filed for reelection.

Meanwhile local Princeton races for mayor and town Council appear as if they will be uncontested, with Democrats Mayor Mark Freda and Councilman Leighton Newlin running for reelection and new Council candidate Brian McDonald, also a Democrat and currently a member of the Princeton Public Schools Board of Education, all running unopposed. Councilwoman Eve Niedergang has announced that she will be stepping down from Council at the end of the year.

Kim, who represents the 3rd N.J. congressional district, adjoining Princeton’s 12th district, has recently been gaining momentum in Mercer County with a victory at the March 11 Mercer County Convention, winning the Mercer Democrats’ endorsement by a 235-108 margin, 63 to 29 percent, over Murphy.

Also in the running, Patricia Campos-Medina received 22 votes and Larry Hamm gained eight votes. Winning more than 60 percent will place Kim at the top of the June 4 primary ballot.

Last week Kim also received endorsements from the Mercer County Democratic Caucus and the Princeton Community Democratic Organization (PCDO).

At the March 3 PCDO meeting, held at Center for Modern Aging Princeton’s Suzanne Patterson Center, Kim received 85 of 93 votes cast, with Campos-Medina finishing second with six votes and Hamm and Murphy receiving one vote each.

Kim, Campos-Medina, and Hamm addressed the audience directly and answered questions in person, and a surrogate spoke for Murphy, who had a longstanding previous commitment.

“I had a strong feeling Kim would do well,” said PCDO Chair Nick DiDomizio in a March 11 phone interview. “That has to do with the nature of Democrats in Princeton, I think. It’s grassroots-oriented.”

DiDomizio noted that there had been a number of events in Princeton recently organized in Kim’s behalf. “He has won the support of many different factions in Princeton ranging from the progressives to the more moderate Democrats. He engages folks at the local level and works on grassroots topics.”

DiDomizio also noted that Kim is “fighting against the status quo” in New Jersey politics and that “voters may be looking for something a little bit different.”

Both Kim and Murphy have won endorsements from a number of public officials in state, county, and local organizations; union and labor leaders; and others. DiDomizio pointed out that Murphy has won endorsements from several organizations in large northern counties.

DiDomizio emphasized how important this race is, with control of the U.S. Senate at stake. He questioned whether the Murphy name is going to be helpful to Tammy Murphy or not.

“Mrs. Murphy has been trying to separate herself from the governor’s policies and trying to build her own platform, but momentum with Kim is very high,” DiDomizio said. “This is the most exciting race we’ve had in quite a while. I think many don’t realize how important this race is.”

On the Republican side of the aisle, Princeton Republican Committee Chair Dudley Sipprelle summed up his party’s plans: “We’re planning to win, starting from the top down.”

The Mercer County Republican Committee will be meeting Wednesday evening, March 13, to endorse candidates for the upcoming primary.

There are currently seven Republican candidates for the U.S. Senate seat: Mendham Mayor Christine Serrano Glasser, Curtis Bashaw, Alex Zdan, Michael Estrada, Albert Harshaw, Justin Murphy, and Fred Schneiderman, according to Ballotpedia.

In the 12th congressional district, incumbent Democrat Bonnie Watson Coleman will face Princeton resident Daniel Dart in the June 4 primary, while the Republican primary pits Shola Coker against Darius Mayfield.

Sipprelle described it as “a good year for Republicans,” with crime, immigration, and inflation at the top of their issues list. “The inflation rate may be down, but a lot of people are not feeling that,” he said, citing prices for groceries, gasoline, and restaurants as well as credit card debt.

“We’re optimistic,” he said. “The Republican candidates think they can win on the issues.”

With less than two weeks until the March 25 filing deadline, there are no Republican or Independent candidates in the Princeton races for mayor and Council, “but there can be surprises,” Sipprelle said.