CAPE MAY COURT HOUSE — Statewide, Democrats picked up Republican seats in the House of Representatives, helped by a win from former Cape May County Freeholder Jeff Van Drew, and Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez kept his job in the Senate.
But local Republicans were celebrating Tuesday night at the Bellevue Tavern in Cape May Court House with definitive wins throughout Cape May County.
Republicans retook the majority in Middle Township, with Theron “Ike” Gandy’s win over Democratic incumbent Jeff DeVico, and held on to the majority in Dennis, Upper and Lower Township. Incumbent Freeholder Leonard Desidero kept the county governing body a Republican-only club by a wide margin.
Upper Township was not in play, with no Democrats nominated, which meant clear sailing for Republicans Richard Palombo, the long-serving mayor, and Edward Barr to return to Township Committee. In Lower Township, there were challenges to the Republican incumbents in each of the three wards, with the Republican incumbents each keeping their seats by a wide margin.
It was a tighter race in Dennis Township, where voters sent Republican Frank Germanio to Township Committee over Democratic candidate Dorothy Merlino and supported Matthew Cox over Democrat Renee Pettit. Germanio had formerly served on committee, elected in 2012 to break what had been a long-standing Democratic majority in the town.
“I just want to help Township Committee in any way I can. We have a really good committee now,” Germanio said on election night in an upstairs room in the Main Street tavern, where Republicans have gathered on election nights for decades.
The Middle Township contingent were in a celebratory mood. Gandy’s win likely puts Committeeman Tim Donohue in the mayor’s seat once the three-man committee changes to Republican control. On Tuesday night, those gathered called out “Mr. Mayor” to Donohue as the results were announced.
“Middle Township likes Ike,” said Donohue. “Mike Clark, not so much.”
Clark, a Democrat, is the current mayor, who will remain on the governing body once Gandy is sworn in.
“What a night, what a month, what a long couple of years,” Donohue told those gathered. “Honestly, I thought we had about a 50-50 chance, but we smoked them. Everywhere and in every part of town.”
The final vote was 4,003 for Gandy, 3,628 for DeVico.
Donohue lauded Gandy for his hard work in the campaign.
“Ike had the fire. And that made all the difference. We shocked the world, obviously,” Donohue said.
He later pointed out that only three living Republicans have won in Middle Township, including himself, former Committeeman Dan Lockwood and now Gandy, with all three in the room that night. At one point, Democrats had a tight hold on Middle government for decades, with the majority far more volatile in recent years.
Gandy said he had helped out on the campaigns for Lockwood and Donohue.
“We saw some wins, we saw some losses,” he said. “But I saw a passion with two people that made me want to run. So those two have been my guiding force through this.”
He also thanked his wife, Maren, and his son, Ty, who made the campaign button he wore that night.
Contacted for comment as the results came in, DeVico was generous.
“He will do a great job! It’s all good,” DeVico texted.
As the numbers continued to come in, no mention was made of the statewide races, aside from congressional candidate Seth Grossman when early returns showed him leading Van Drew by a point. That announcement drew cheers. Polls, and many analysts, put Van Drew as the odds-on favorite, with far more money and endorsements from most regional media, while Grossman made national news with controversial comments about diversity during the primary. The national Republican campaign organization pulled its support in the aftermath, over that and other comments.
Grossman campaigned as unreservedly in support of President Trump and his agenda. Van Drew declared victory in the tighter-than-expected race on Tuesday night, but Grossman did not concede that evening.
In Cape May County, where Van Drew lives and has served as mayor, freeholder, assemblyman and senator, Van Drew showed a strong result. The unofficial tally had him up by several points, 21,278 to 18,762. For Senate, the county went for Republican Bob Hugin by a wide margin, according to county results, with 24,509 votes to 14,335 for Menendez.
Desiderio received a rock star’s welcome when he arrived at the Bellevue on Tuesday night. Marcus Karavan, the county’s GOP leader, called Desiderio the champion of Cape May County. Desiderio took 63 percent of the vote, easily fending off a challenge from relatively unknown Democrat Jeremiah Shenerman, 24,362 to 14,270.
Desiderio praised the Republican organization, his family and Cape May County Clerk Rita Fulginiti, calling her his sister. He called out the municipal winners in Middle and Dennis.
“This is a great victory. An unbelievable victory,” he said.
In an emailed response to a request for comment, Shenerman said he learned a lot in the race and plans to remain active.
“While the election didn't turn out in my favor, I am so grateful and honored for the support of so many Cape May County residents,” he wrote. “We brought attention to and promoted solutions for the many solvable problems our residents face and we kept it positive!”
The Lower Township Republicans did not turn out to the county event, instead gathering in the south end of the county. In each of three wards, the incumbents won by 60 percent of the vote. Longtime 1st Ward Councilman Thomas Conrad beat out Democrat Carmella Pallotta, in the 2nd Ward, David Perry won over Thomas Poussart and in the 3rd Ward, Roland Roy beat Chris Marlowe.
In Stone Harbor and North Wildwood, there was no challenge to the Republican candidates. In Woodbine, longtime Mayor William Pikolycky, a Republican, also ran unopposed, taking 99 percent of the vote, while Republican council candidates Michael Benson and Joseph E. Johnson III beat out independent candidate Alexander Bland.
In Cape May, a nonpartisan race, voters chose Zack Mullock, Stacy D. Sheehan and Shaine P. Meier in a five-person race for three seats on City Council, with John Van de Vaarst a narrow fourth and Mark DiSanto a distant fifth.
All results are unofficial, as posted by the Cape May County Clerk’s Office.