TOMS RIVER-Ocean County’s Republican leadership has chosen to endorse former Burlington County Freeholder Kate Gibbs to challenge Congressman Andy Kim in New Jersey’s 3rd Congressional District, one of the most hotly contested congressional battlegrounds in the 2020 elections, but a shocking revelation in the Asbury Park Press last week could sink Gibbs.
Andy Kim is not well-liked in Ocean County, but in 2018, it didn’t matter, because Kim won his home county of Burlington against millionaire insurance executive Tom MacArthur. Going into the weekend, Gibbs had the momentum until a story, most likely the result of the cancerous division within the Ocean County GOP revealed her past criminal record to the public.
It’s unknown who fed Asbury Park Press reporter Erik Larsen the information, but now the cat is out of the bag.
Gibbs was charged and convicted for shoplifting at Kohl’s department store, for possession of marijuana and drinking on a public beach in New Jersey. If those charges aren’t bad enough for a millennial Republican hoping to serve in Congress, numerous lawsuits from a former landlord were also published by the Asbury Park Press.
What does this mean for Gibbs and the GOP’s plan to flip the third district to send Andy Kim back to his home in D.C.? Right now it’s uncertain whether Trump’s presidential campaign can drag Gibbs over the finish line.
Just because the Republican leadership under the direction of Chairman Frank Holman picked Gibbs, it doesn’t quite mean the race is over yet for her opponent, David Richter. Next month, the GOP is hosting its annual convention and Richter can overturn the screening committee’s decision with a floor vote, getting the Trump line in Ocean County in the GOP primary election in June.
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Republican leaders on the screening committee were well aware of these convictions heading into Saturday’s vote, but Freeholder Virginia Haines pressed for Gibbs, saying she deserves a second chance. The question is, is that second chance worth it for the Republicans to lose again to Andy Kim in November? That’s what the county Republican council will have to decide at the GOP nominating convention. The other question is, who is brave enough to go against the vindictive and authoritative monarchy that has taken control of the party in the past year? Those who have opposed Haines and Holman have felt their political wrath. Will anyone on the county council have the courage to speak out publicly and nominate Richter from the floor? That remains to be seen as most have fallen in line behind Holman’s power team in the last 12 months, even his most ardent detractors.
Some were given jobs. Others were given public contracts, but fall in line, they did.
Additionally, the committee chose North Jersey Obama appointee Rikin Mehta to run against U.S. Senator Cory Booker instead of diehard conservative and GOP supporter Hirsh Singh. That vote was also unanimous and insiders suggest county leadership is having second thoughts on both screening committee endorsements.
While Gibbs and Mehta have won the support of the screening committee, which has sided with the North Jersey Norcross Aligned Republicans, the county council which includes club presidents and mayors will have the final say at the upcoming convention in early March to see who will get the line.
One thing is for sure, Andy Kim and his New Jersey Democrat operatives are hoping the Gibbs endorsement sticks. Operatives’ imaginations are already running wild with campaign marketing ideas exploiting Gibbs’ past run-ins with the law.
“Klepto Kate?” one operative said when asked by SNN about the feeling in the Democrat party regarding Gibbs’ selection. “This election is going to be a steal for Kim.”
Another Democrat operative was more serious about the impact.
“We’re talking about a seat in Congress here, this is not a good way to start,” he said. “Andy Kim has proven he can do the job. Like him or hate him, he’s representing the people of his district how he promised he would.”
“How is Kate going to fund her campaign?” the latter operative joked. “She can’t use her Kohl’s cash because she has a lifetime ban from the store.”
Several attempts to reach Gibbs have been unsuccessful.