Delegates attending the Hunterdon County Republican Convention rejected favorite-son Assemblyman Erik Peterson (R-Franklin) and awarded former Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean Jr. (R-Westfield) the organization line in the GOP primary.
The winner of the nomination is expected to take on Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-Ringoes), the Democratic incumbent who is believed to be set up to lose in the 7th congressional district as a result of changes that make the map more favorable to Republicans.
Kean edged out Peterson by a scant seven-vote margin, winning on the second ballot by 67 to 60, or a 53%-47% victory.
The organization backed his campaigns for county freeholder and state Assembly in the past, but while Peterson is widely considered New Jersey’s most conservative state legislator, local GOP activists opted to endorse the politically moderate Kean, who is more appealing to the liberal Eastern establishment than representative of red-meat eating Trump voters.
A 27-year-old newcomer John Henry Isemann came in third on the first ballot with 35 votes while party elder Robert Trugman garnered only two votes for the GOP endorsement.
The victory will give Kean an advantageous ballot position in the primary, denying all other contenders of a fair placement, especially if they fail to recruit a slate of running mates to join them. New Jersey is the only state that allocates unfair ballot positions this way.
Three candidates who did not compete for the organization line were Sterling Schwab, Kevin Dorlon and Phil Rizzo, who earned a quarter of the GOP primary votes for governor in 2021.