Warren County's Democrats are working from the top down.
The small, long-quiet party committee on Sunday held its first nominating convention in more than a decade, backing a candidate for New Jersey governor.
But they won't stop there. Committee Chairman Tom Palmieri said the local party will have a full slate of candidates this year, planning challenges for state Senate, Assembly and freeholder in the heavily Republican area.
"A lot of Democrats are responding," Palmieri said Tuesday, citing the election of Republican President Donald Trump. "They're angry, they're upset."
Republicans hold the state offices for Warren County's two legislative districts, as well as the entirety of the three-member freeholder board. Registered Republican voters outnumbered Democrats about 29,000 to 17,500 as of Jan. 31, according to state department figures. There are 31,000 unaffiliated voters in the county.
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The Democratic committee had 24 members in 2013 when Palmieri took over as chairman. That is up to 91 now. He said the party was encouraged after Democrats in 2015 won council seats and the mayor's office in Phillipsburg, the county's most populated town.
Also worth noting is much of the county is now represented in Congress by Democrat Josh Gottheimer, who upset Republican incumbent Scott Garrett in November.
"There's a new sense of renewal in the Democratic committee," Phillipsburg Mayor Stephen Ellis said. "I think it has a lot to do with the complacency that has set in over the last 20 years or so. We're definitely on a mission ... ."
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Up to 150 people attended Sunday's nomination convention, Palmieri said, to hear from four candidates in the crowded gubernatorial race: Bill Brennan, an activist and former Teaneck firefighter; Phil Murphy, a former banking executive and U.S. ambassador to Germany; John Wisniewski, a longtime member of the state Assembly; and Mark Zinna, president of Tenafly Borough Council.
The committee ultimately voted to back Murphy, notching the ambassador another endorsement. Palmieri said more local endorsements will be coming after the committee's next meeting March 21 at the Washington Draught House on Route 31 in Washington Township.
"People like being able to have a part in the process," he said. "It helps build up a party."
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