Four Republicans vying for chance to unseat Booker

New Jersey Republicans will choose their candidate to challenge Senator Cory Booker (D) in an early June primary. Booker will be facing the voters for the second time in thirteen months, after winning a special election to fill the remainder of the late Senator Frank Lautenberg???s term last October.  The four Republicans competing to be Booker???s opponent are a mix of fresh faces and old political hands.  Three have run for office, although none have won a campaign.

The political newcomer in the race is West Orange businessman Brian Goldberg.  Goldberg has built and run two concrete products companies ??? not exactly a business for the feint of heart.  Goldberg has been making the rounds of county Republican committees seeking endorsements, claiming a majority of them.  Goldberg has also been courting the powerful Bergen County Republican Organization.  He was the only candidate to appear at the local party???s December rally.  Republican turnout in Bergen County, the state???s most populous, will be critically important in November.

On the issues, Goldberg calls himself a conservative; but he has received criticism for some ambiguous positions. For example, he lists ???rein[ing] in Washington???s addiction to spending and raising taxes??? as his highest priority if elected, but does not mention cutting overall federal spending.  Similarly, Goldberg says he is personally pro-life, but supports an individual woman???s right to choose.

???A lot of my platform is focused on jobs and the economy and the proposition that people will succeed if we give them opportunities,??? he says, and on issues of job creation, energy independence, and education, he is more in line with conservatives.  Goldberg supports the full repeal of Obamcare, development of all domestic energy sources, including the Keystone XL pipeline, and ending the Common Core school curriculum.  Despite his courting the county committees, Goldberg???s biggest handicap will be name recognition, or lack thereof.

Ramapo College finance professor Dr. Murray Sabrin suffers no such handicap. The most experienced campaigner in the field, Dr. Sabrin was the Libertarian candidate for governor in 1997 and a contender for the Republican U.S. Senate nomination in 2000 and 2008.  Sabrin has maintained his libertarian streak, centering his campaign on criticism of crony-capitalist bailouts, protection of civil liberties, and reducing federal spending.  He believes in a non-interventionist foreign policy, professing to adhere to George Washington???s advice against ???entangling alliances.???

Sabrin is pro-life and pro-gun rights.  On these two issues he has been particularly vocal, issuing challenges to each of his primary opponents to match his position.   He boasts endorsements from former presidential candidate and U.S. Rep. Ron Paul and NJ Tea Party favorites Sen. Mike Doherty and Assemblywoman Alison Littel-McHose.  On the race against Booker, Sabrin says he is most prepared to go toe to toe with the incumbent.

???Politics today is a tough business,??? Sabrin says in an open letter to his opponents.  ???Unless you???re prepared to go toe-to-toe with Cory Booker ??? to get in his face and call him out for all his Barnum & Bailey shenanigans as mayor of Newark, for horsing around in Hollywood and for spending time giggling with his 1.2 million Twitter followers ??? you???ll get crushed.  I???m ready to run on my decades-long public record.???

The third candidate, Jeff Bell, also has a decades-long public record.  Bell is an experienced political operative with an impressive background:  an aide to presidents Reagan and Nixon and former representative Jack Kemp, a former president of the conservative Manhattan Institute, a former fellow at the Institute of Politics at Harvard University, a visiting professor at the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers University, and a board member of the American Conservative Union.

Bell is a well-known and respected Washington hand that will not be intimidated by the bright lights of a campaign against the flashy Senator Booker.  He was the Republican nominee for Senate in 1978, as a 34 year-old.  He was one of the first Republicans to embrace tax cuts as a means to economic growth, using the issue to defeat four-term incumbent Clifford Case in the primary.  Today, Bell is again basing his campaign on another unorthodox issue, a return to the gold standard. Bell argues that Federal Reserve policies like Quantitative Easing devalue the dollar, causing prices to rise for everything from food and gas to college tuition and health care while feeding the federal government???s spending habit.

???While Washington has gotten free financing from the Fed, families planning for college, retirees living on a fixed income, and everyone else hoping to earn a decent return on their savings rather than speculating in the markets have fallen behind,??? Bell says.  ???It is a travesty that our monetary policy has deprived seniors, parents, and savers in billions of income so Congress can rack up more debt.???

Bell???s championing of a strong dollar has attracted attention from some high profile Republicans.  Weekly Standardeditor William Kristol praised him in a glowing editorial, and Forbes editor and former GOP presidential candidate Steve Forbes has endorsed him in the primary.   ???Jeff Bell???s message of economic revival through a gold-backed dollar is the right prescription for what is holding back the U.S. economy,??? Forbes said.  Steve Lonegan, who pushed Booker to the limit in the special election last October, has also lent his support to Bell???s effort.

Rounding out the list of competitors in the Republican primary is former Army Major and IT consultant Rich Pezzullo. Pezzullo ran for governor as the Conservative Party nominee in 1997, the same year as Sabrin.  He also represented the party in two U.S. Senate campaigns in the 1990s.  Pezzullo touts his practical experience working with various small businesses from law firms to auto repair shops, dentists, and restaurants. ???Along the way, [Pezzullo] has worked as a janitor, dishwasher, salesman and business owner.  He can handle a floor buffer, hare splint, M-60 and 12 gauge, SQL and squeegee,??? his campaign bio boasts.

Pezzullo wants to cut taxes and regulations to help businesses grow.  ???Overregulation is literally choking the life out of people in New Jersey to do their jobs and operate their businesses,??? he says.  Pezzullo supports cuts in federal welfare programs and the full repeal of Obamacare.  On other issues, he straddles the ideological spectrum.  Pezzullo is pro-life and pro-gun rights, but opposes the death penalty and supports same-sex unions.  He doesn???t see the dichotomy as a problem, however, saying voters can appreciate a candidate who is freethinking.  ???Everybody has a reason not to vote for me, and yet when they allow me to explain all the thought that went into my positions they see I don???t shoot from the hip.???

Based on his success racking up county committee endorsements, and the plum ballot line placement that comes with them, Brian Goldberg has to be considered the favorite in the June 3rd primary.  But Sabrin is a fighter and Bell has gravitas.  Pezzullo seems to offer a middle-ground conservative position.  Whichever one of them wins, he will have an uphill battle against a better funded, and more well known media darling in Senator Booker.  That said, Lonegan showed that Booker might be vulnerable to a direct frontal assault on his tenure as Newark mayor.  New Jersey???s eventual Republican nominee could have a puncher???s chance.

Mark Impomeni is a freelance conservative opinion writer and blogger living in New Jersey.