OCEAN COUNTY-In the wake of a populist outsider, Donald Trump winning the 2016 Presidential election, establishment Republican party candidates Kim Guadagno and Jack Ciattarelli are doing their best not to mention Trump supporting candidate Joseph Rullo in this year’s gubernatorial primary campaign.
It’s not just the party standard bearers ignoring Rullo.
Despite being the first Republican to file in the race, Rullo has often been sidelined in media reports covering the election, sometimes getting an honorable mention in the final paragraphs of election reports.
It was more of the same with Ciattarelli when he threw down the gauntlet for Guadagno.
“Today, I challenged Lt. Governor Guadagno to a series of debates in all 21 counties in our state. If Republicans are going to win in November, we need a candidate who has a real plan and is battle tested,” Ciattarelli said. “I announced my five-point plan on the day I entered this race.”
The Lt. Governor didn’t respond yet.
“We await the Lt. Governor’s reply and hope that she provides more than hollow promises and a shameful lack of specifics in the days to come,” Ciatarelli added.
Another candidate did accept Ciattarelli’s challenge, Joseph Rullo. Rullo, from Ocean County, where Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton by a 2-1 margin, is trying to insert himself into the battle taking place between the two establishment candidates.
“Great idea to debate in 21 counties,” Rullo responded directly to Ciattarelli on Twitter. “Challenge accepted.”
Rullo has long contended that New Jersey Republicans should be wary of candidates who did not endorse the entire Republican ticket in November. Both Guadagno and Ciattarelli went against the Trump-Pence ticket in the 2016 election.
“I can’t support Hillary Clinton, and I won’t vote for Donald Trump.” Guadagno told the Star Ledger prior to the election.
On the other side of the establishment aisle, Ciattarelli invoked Ronald Reagan, as any good Republican would to justify his non-support of Donald Trump.
“If I am leaning any way, it’s the Reagan way, which was, in 1976, he didn’t vote for either candidate,” Ciattarelli told the Star Ledger. “Because, what does it matter if Hillary Clinton wins New Jersey? The presidency isn’t awarded based on the popular vote. That’s where I’m headed.”
While Rullo is hoping his firm support on issues important to New Jersey Republicans will take him through the Republican primary, Rullo’s message might not resonate in the blue areas of New Jersey that pushed Hillary Clinton into the winner’s circle on Election Day.
Ciattarelli has not yet responded to Rullo’s acceptance of his challenge.