Guest Column: A Member's View of Republicans' Debate

Editor's note: Recently, all five Republican candidates for the District 11 congressional race shared the spotlight in a candidate debate at the Randolph Diner, sponsored by the Morris County Young Republicans. InsiderNJ had a report (see link). Also in the audience was NJ 11th for Change member Siva Jonnada — and here is what he had to say about the event. It’s an interesting read for those of us who couldn’t be there.

This column solely reflects our guest columnist’s views, and does not represent any official positions of NJ 11th for Change.

Siva Jonnada reports:

Here’s my brief summary of the NJ 11 Republican candidates’ debate last week at the Randolph Diner:

Patrick Allocco came across as a bit flaky, particularly with his proposal of a “social media” voting platform, which can be easily manipulated. (Such as Facebook, for instance.) Otherwise, he’s boilerplate conservative, having been active in the GOP since Ronald Reagan’s 1980 campaign.

Peter deNeufville was often hesitant and low-energy. He may be an ideologue, but that didn’t show through as much since the audience could hardly hear him. His strength is that he’s a free-marketeer and is deeply concerned about the coming fiscal crisis, with high federal debts and uncontrolled spending. He stood out with his take on tariffs and how they will hurt U.S. companies with international trade, something with which he has personal experience.

Antony Ghee showed sincerity and confidence, although he was repetitive in emphasizing his mantra of integrity, independence and personal courage. His major selling point is that he’s the Republican mirror of Democrat Mikie Sherrill — both have degrees from Georgetown and World War II-veteran grandfathers; both served in the military (Navy for Sherrill, Army for Ghee); both are lawyers, etc. The fact that Ghee only joined the party a couple of months ago wasn’t mentioned in the debate, but Webber will definitely make sure it’s well-known.

Martin Hewitt called himself a “proud moderate,” which didn’t go over well with the vocal members of the audience. Although, afterwards, I heard that quieter members were thankful he showed up and was a voice of reason. Hewitt didn’t say it out loud, but he was clearly an anti-Trump candidate: fiscally conservative but socially moderate, if not liberal. In other words, he doesn’t have a chance.

Jay Webber was truly confident and extremely polished. One could tell that he’s a politician ——he’s the only candidate who has held elective office, which is a big plus for him. For people wary of amateurs running for office (see Trump), experience will count. Webber is a conservative true-believer and the one to watch for. He definitely played to the audience, and the more vocal members whooped it up for him. If elected, he would be a good bet to join the Tea Party’s Freedom Caucus.

Webber’s legislative approach is strongly influenced by the American Legislative Council (ALEC) —  a staunchly conservative group, funded by some of the biggest U.S. corporations, that provides state governments with “mock-up bills that ... are, for the most part, tailored to fit a conservative agenda” (The Star-Ledger, 2012).  This wasn’t mentioned at the debate, of course, nor that Webber served as ALEC’s state co-chairman, but it’s important to know.


Judging from the enthusiasm of the audience, the consensus in the room was that Webber was the winner at the diner debate. But from what was heard after the forum, there are Republicans who are wary of him and are worried about Trump. They don’t vocalize it as much, but they were thankful for candidacies like Ghee’s and Hewitt’s, which may be more political gambits anyway.

Webber’s the real thing, and he’ll most likely win the GOP primary. Basically, we need to look for the size of the GOP primary turnout and the margin of victory. If the numbers are high, this shows enthusiasm for the party. If Webber wins by a large margin, it means the GOP wants him, and he's in a strong position come November. If he only squeaks by, that could be a sign that many in the party would prefer someone else.


Siva Jonnada lives in Morris Township.