The race to replace Gov. Chris Christie in New Jersey grew over the weekend, with an adviser to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and a local comedian declaring their interest.
Nutley Commissioner Steve Rogers, a local Republican political leader who advises Trump, announced the start of his campaign at a hotel in Morris Township on Thursday. Some of his supporters wore red “Steve Rogers for Governor” hats that were similar to Trump’s “Make America Great Again” hats.
Comedian Joe Piscopo, 65, was also inspired by Trump to enter politics. He said Thursday he would likely run as a Republican in 2017, but isn’t ruling out jumping in as an independent after the June 6 primary.
“I’m seriously looking at it,” he said, promising to make a decision by January. “I love the people. I love the state. I know what has to be done.”
Piscopo has never campaigned for or held office, but considered running in 2004. What’s different now? He said he feels emboldened by the against-all-odds victory of Trump, whom he spoke for recently at a Florida rally.
“When I saw Mr. Trump in Tampa and he invited me to speak, I saw it was contagious. It was the movement. It wasn’t the machine,” he said.
If Piscopo ran, it could ratchet up the national attention on next year’s contest and could also be a significant boost to Republicans who are in rough shape, thanks to Christie’s record-low approval ratings.
“I’m not saying you replicate the Trump formula, but money and partisan leaning are not in [Republicans’] favor,” said Montclair State University political science professor Brigid Harrison. “But this is upending the formula.”
Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli is also running for the Republican nomination and Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno is considering joining the race.
On the Democratic side, Phil Murphy, a wealthy, one-time Goldman Sachs executive and Obama administration diplomat, is in strong position. Assemblyman John Wisniewski, who co-chaired the Bridge-gate investigation, is also running.