Trump supporters form new N.J. political group. Is it also a sign state GOP chair may run for governor?

Posted Jan 20, 2020

A group of New Jersey Republicans with ties to President Donald Trump announced Monday they’re forming a new political committee that can take in unlimited individual and corporate donations.

It also appears to be a sign that Republican State Party Chairman Doug Steinhardt is getting closer to launching a bid for the party’s nomination for governor in 2021.

The group, Lead Right New Jersey, says it will support lower taxes, cuts to government spending, and changes in the state’s business climate.

Its formation was announced a week before Trump is scheduled to hold rally in Wildwood on Jan. 28.

It also comes in advance of the 2020 elections, when Trump will lead the Republican ticket and the GOP will try to win back the three congressional districts that switched to the Democrats in 2018.

And it comes as the state’s 2021 governor’s race is beginning to take shape (with Steinhardt being mentioned as one of a few possible Republican candidates).

As a Section 527 group, the new PAC can take in donations of any size and spend them on so-called issue advertising, which can highlight voting records and positions as long as it does not endorse a specific candidate.

Former White House political director Bill Stepien is helping to lead the group, along with state Sen. Michael Testa, R-Cumberland, who flipped a Democratic district last fall, one of the GOP state lawmakers who won seats last November.

That was the district once represented by Rep. Jeff Van Drew, R-2nd Dist., who was elected in 2018 as a Democrat and switched parties following the U.S. House vote to impeach Trump. Stepien is working on Van Drew’s campaign as well.

“Decades of liberal policies have put New Jersey at a crisis point and putting our state back on track is why I ran for the Senate in the first place,” said Testa, who also is Cumberland County Republican chairman. “Lead Right New Jersey will be part of the solution by supporting those who ascribe to core conservative principles: smaller government, less spending and lower taxes.”

Besides Stepien and Testa, directors of the group include former state Assemblywoman Donna Simon, R-Hunterdon; Pat Delle Cava, business manager of Local 102 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, and a member of the national advisory board of Workers for Trump; and Lori Ciesla, treasurer of the Warren County Republican Party.

That’s where Steinhardt comes in. Steinhardt is chair of the Warren County GOP and Ciesla is an ally.

Plus, the group’s name, Lead Right, is one of Steinhardt’s favorite sayings.

And former Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno formed a similar group — run by Stepien — before she announced she was running for governor in 2017.

Meanwhile, Lead Right was announced a day before former state Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli is set to become the first major Republican to announce he’s joining the race for the GOP nod for governor — the winner of which would likely to take on incumbent Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy.

Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick, R-Union, also says he’s “strongly considering a run.”

Still, Stepien told NJ Advance Media that “of course there is speculation regarding Chairman Steinhardt’s future, given his strong leadership of the state Republican Party."

“But any speculation regarding Doug’s future is just that,” Stepien added. “I speak only for Lead Right, but I assume that if and when Chairman Steinhardt has something to say about the best way he thinks he can continue to serve the state, he will be clear about his intentions.”

Contributions to the group will be made public and filed periodically with the Internal Revenue Service.

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