How can the party that nominated a candidate for the US House in 2006 now cast that same candidate as a fringe Tea Partier? Welcome to New Jersey Republican politics. In 2006, the New Jersey GOP nominated Leigh-Ann Bellew to run for the 6th House district. She was the party’s standard bearer then, but is cast as an insurgent now that she’s running for state senate against an entrenched establishment incumbent.
Bellew is taking on state Sen. Joe Kyrillos in Senate District 13. Kyrillos has been in the New Jersey Senate since 1992 and in the legislature since 1988. District 13 is a red dot in New Jersey’s blue sea. Monmouth County is home to some of the state’s and nation’s wealthiest and best known people, including Jon Bon Jovi and Geraldo Rivera. It’s also home to many blue collar, Catholic, strongly pro-life Republicans and what were once called Reagan Democrats. It went 2-to-1 for Gov. Chris Christie in 2009 as he ran on a platform of reforming and cutting government. The district is anti tax and gun control, in a high tax and strong gun control state. It’s the kind of district that can send a strong conservative to Trenton.
But instead, it has sent Kryrillos, who according to Bellew is “not very Republican in a Republican district.” In a conversation last week, Bellew noted that when Kyrillos ran for US Senate against sitting Sen. Bob Menendez in 2012, he ran hard to the left on taxes and on abortion. It was that race that exposed the real Joe Kyrillos, according to Bellew, as someone to the left of his own party and far to the left of District 13 on a host of issues ranging from government debt and spending to gun control.
Yet the state GOP is supporting Kyrillos anyway. Gov. Christie is holding a cocktail fundraiser with him tomorrow sub-hosted by former NY Giant Christian Peter, a player with a very checkered past. Gov. Christie has put the kibosh on primary challengers across the state. The state’s method of balloting also makes it difficult for challengers to be heard. The party runs a slate of candidates listed together, with challengers listed elsewhere on the ballot. Bellew is running to a great extent against the state’s machine politics.
Still, Bellew is confident that when voters hear her message, it will resonate. The private school teacher and near full-time activist describes herself as a Jeffersonian: “The right to life and pursuit of happiness means maximum liberty and maximum personal responsibility.” The majority of the people understand these principles, she says, but “in this part of the world it hasn’t been articulated.”