The National Republican Congressional Committee on Monday walked back a negative comment its chairman made about South Jersey GOP candidates vying for outgoing U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo’s 2nd District seat.
NRCC spokesman Chris Martin acknowledged Monday the committee’s chairman, Steve Stivers, seemed unhappy with Republicans running for the seat last week, but that is no longer the case.
Martin also specifically complimented Linwood businessman Hirsh Singh, who appears to be the favorite heading into the Republican primary on June 5.
“Hirsh Singh is running a strong grass-roots campaign that’s focused on solving real problems for the 2nd District,” Martin said. “His compelling personal story and lifelong commitment to South Jersey would make him an excellent member of Congress.”
Martin clarified on Tuesday that the compliment is not technically an "endorsement," but rather just a highlight of a particular Republican candidate running for congress.
Singh won the Republican nomination in four of the eight counties that make up the 2nd District, including Atlantic and Ocean. He has donated about $42,000 from his own pocket to his campaign, according to the Federal Election Commission.
His campaign declined to comment on Martin’s remarks Monday.
LoBiondo, R-2nd, announced last year he will not run for reelection after more than two decades in the House of Representatives.
His announcement sparked a scramble among interested Republicans, but none of them appeared to impress the national organization.
“I’ll be honest. ... I wish we had a better recruit in the LoBiondo seat, but we don’t,” Stivers said last week to The Philadelphia Inquirer.
Stivers’ dissatisfaction did not sit well with other candidates in the race.
“They are looking for a rich candidate with no political experience who will fund his own campaign, and then do what he is told after the election,” Seth Grossman, a GOP candidate, said of the NRCC. “It seems these Republican leaders don’t care if they lose the seat to (state Sen. Jeff Van Drew, D-Cape, Cumberland, Atlantic), as long as they can blame it on (President Donald Trump).”
Grossman added he called the NRCC six times in February to discuss his candidacy but never got a return call.
Keith Davis, chairman of the Atlantic County Republican Committee, called Stivers’ comment disturbing and said it would be better if Stivers kept quiet if he doesn’t have anything positive to say.
“It shows that we still have a lot of work to do in changing the swamp culture in Washington,” Davis said. “We are running a bright, young candidate in Hirsh Singh that represents the great promise of America. He cares enough about his own country and the issues he’s running on that he’s putting his own personal money into the race.”
Davis added Singh will be a “great champion” for the party in helping it reach out to the Asian-American community.
“Not every Republican candidate for Congress needs to look like Steve Stivers,” Davis said, referring to the fact that Stivers is white.
Bob Turkavage, of Brigantine, won the support of the Cumberland County Republicans. He said Stivers’ comment is misplaced.
“Giving Chairman Stivers the benefit of doubt regarding his mindset at the time this statement was made, I believe that his concern about a recruiting deficiency in the CD-2 race is misplaced,” Turkavage said in a statement.
Representatives for Sam Fiocchi, the final Republican running in the primary, did not return a request for comment.
New Jersey’s primary election is June 5. The winner of the Republican primary will square off against either Van Drew, Tanzie Youngblood or Will Cunningham.
Van Drew has gained the endorsement of all eight counties in the district and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.