By Donald Wittkowski
Former state Assemblyman Sam Fiocchi picked up a key endorsement Monday night from Cape May County Republicans amid a crowded field of candidates vying for the GOP nomination in the Second Congressional District race.
Cape May County Freeholder Leonard Desiderio and U.S. Senate candidate Bob Hugin also received formal endorsements from the Cape May County Republicans during their convention in Avalon.
Fiocchi is among eight Republican candidates looking to establish themselves as the party frontrunner leading up to the June primary. Rep. Frank A. LoBiondo, who has represented the Second Congressional District since 1995, has announced his retirement, setting up a scramble to replace him in Washington, D.C.
The 65-year-old Fiocchi believes his experience in elected office at the state and county level gives him an edge in the race. He said the endorsement from the Cape May County Republicans will boost his campaign as he looks to distinguish himself in the congested GOP field.
“It’s a huge amount of momentum,” Fiocchi said in an interview. “This is really the first major county endorsement. It puts us on the right track and in the right direction.”
Fiocchi, of Vineland, was a Cumberland County freeholder from 2011 through 2013. He chose not to seek re-election as freeholder in order to campaign for the state Assembly in 2013, a race that he won. After serving in the Assembly from 2014 to 2016, he lost his re-election bid in the First Legislative District.
Looking to make a political comeback in the congressional race, Fiocchi is stressing the need for lower taxes, new jobs and economic development as major themes in his campaign.
Other Republican candidates in the congressional race include Textron Systems executive Brian Fitzherbert, attorney Seth Grossman, Citigroup executive Mark McGovern, Hi-Tech Systems executive Hirsh Singh, Somers Point Councilman James Toto, retired FBI agent Robert Turkavage and attorney John Zarych.
In the Cape May County freeholder race, Leonard Desiderio’s endorsement Monday night by the county Republicans was completely expected. Desiderio was first appointed to the freeholder board in 2002 to fill an unexpired term, then won election to a full three-year term in 2003. He followed up with re-election wins in 2006, 2009, 2012 and 2015.
Desiderio, 61, who also serves as mayor of Sea Isle City, said he wants to bring more economic development to Cape May County, while also keeping taxes low and continuing the same level of county services.
“We’re looking to move into the future. The economy is going to be a big part of that,” he said. “The sky’s the limit here in Cape May County. We have great potential.”
When he announced his re-election campaign in January, Desiderio said other major issues he intends to focus on during his campaign include public safety, combating the county’s opioid crisis and improving the antiquated toll bridges operated by the Cape May County Bridge Commission.
Also Monday night, Bob Hugin’s endorsement by Cape May County Republicans gives the North Jersey resident the backing of a pivotal GOP-leaning county in South Jersey. He lives in Summit, Union County.
The 63-year-old Hugin, a former Marine and retired pharmaceutical executive, supported President Donald Trump and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
Hugin retired in February as chairman and chief executive officer of Celgene Corp., a global biopharmaceutical company. He has emerged as the first high-profile Republican challenger to incumbent U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J.
In an interview after the Cape May County Republican convention, Hugin criticized Menendez for what he called his “unethical and embarrassing” conduct stemming from federal bribery and corruption charges filed against the senator.
A judge acquitted Menendez of some of the charges last year. The rest of the charges were dropped by prosecutors in January after the senator’s corruption trial last November ended in a mistrial.
“We need a change here,” Hugin said of his campaign to oust Menendez.
In addition to his plan to attack Menendez’s ethics, Hugin said his campaign will also focus on gaining more federal funding for New Jersey projects and programs. He said New Jersey ranks last among the 50 states in the amount of federal funding it gets in return for tax dollars sent to Washington.
“It gets the least back of any state in the country,” he said.