PARSIPPANY – To the victor go the spoils – or in this case, the Egg McMuffin.
State Sen. Joe Pennacchio, fresh off a very satisfying Republican primary win two weeks ago, met me Monday morning for a post-election chat.
He suggested McDonald’s.
Those who followed the LD-26 campaign know why. A few days before the June 6 vote, challenger Tom Mastrangelo highlighted Pennacchio’s use of campaign funds for meals.
Normally when this happens, the charge is that so-and-so spent a few hundred bucks on a feast of prime rib and fine wine.
Not in this case. Mastrangelo pointed to some rather modest meals Pennacchio charged to his campaign account at McDonald’s. Yes, a fast food joint.
So, where else would the senator want to meet after such a “nasty” campaign?
More than nasty, in fact, he said.
“It was horrible, it was full of lies,” Pennacchio said, coffee and an Egg McMuffin in front of him.
Mastrangelo’s general point was that Pennacchio is a liberal and, to use a favorite conservative word of the day, “too woke.”
Now, by any objective account, Pennacchio is one of the more conservative lawmakers in Trenton.
Still, strange things happen in campaigns, and this certainly was the case here.
Pennacchio fought back hard as well, circulating an old recording of a Mastrangelo expletive-filled rant.
This race was not only a clash between Pennacchio and Mastrangelo. It was a challenge to the Morris County Republican Committee and its chair – Laura Ali.
Mastrangelo and three other candidates ran together “off the line” against Pennacchio and three others endorsed by the MCRC.
The challengers had some significant help from Bill Spadea, a 101.5 radio host and possible Republican gubernatorial candidate in 2025. Spadea came to Morris County for a fundraiser and also hyped Mastrangelo on his show.
All that made the win that much sweeter for Ali and the MCRC.
But what happens now?
When does everyone hold hands around the campfire?
“You can’t expect to turn human nature and political nature on and off like a switch,” Pennacchio said.
As for Spadea’s involvement, he said:
“How am I supposed to think about that person? Everything that comes out of that person’s mouth is just showmanship.”
Republicans have a comfortable registration lead in LD-26, which covers eastern Morris and a small part of Passaic. So, GOP control of this district was never in doubt regardless of who won the primary.
That’s not the case elsewhere in New Jersey. It’s a definite long shot, but Republicans are dreaming about winning control of at least one house of the Legislature this fall.
Pennacchio is not ready to analyze anything yet, saying he had been entirely focused on his adventure.
But he thinks there are issues on which GOP candidates can run.
Taxes and affordability are perennial issues, but there’s also the “woke” effect in schools, which is a big concern throughout the country.
Awful primaries come and go, but with the general election now four-plus months away, the key for Republicans statewide is what it always is.
“You have to excite your base,” Pennacchio says.
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