Before The Primary: The Most Important Vote

Andy Kim supporters rallied outside the Democrats’ mini-convention at Central Regional High School. (Photo by Stephanie Faughnan)

  BERKELEY – The primary election is when party members choose who will represent them on the ballot in November. However, there were votes that already took place that were possibly even more important. 

  At a mini-convention of Ocean County Democrats, they gathered at Central Regional High School to vote on who should get the coveted party line. This is the name that will be on the official Democrat column in the June primary. Placement on the ballot is extremely important because many voters just check off boxes down the column.

  Two distinct factions of Democrats focused on the highly anticipated showdown between Congressman Andy Kim (CD-3) and First Lady Tammy Murphy, both eyeing the seat to succeed Senator Bob Menendez. Another candidate, Patricia Campos-Medina, had also put in a bid for the United States Senate seat for consideration by Ocean County Democrats.

  In the weeks to follow, Murphy would suspend her campaign after a series of losses to Kim at conventions such as these.

  From the onset, a lot of people suggested to Kim that it would be difficult to compete against the political machine. Critics felt Murphy would enjoy the benefit of preferential treatment. Indeed, in counties where a single person – or a small group of insiders – chose who won the party line, it was handed to Murphy. If the vote went out to the rest of the registered members, Kim won it.

  Ultimately, Kim won the Ocean County race.

Sue Coleman came from Moorestown to help Andy Kim’s candidacy. (Photo by Stephanie Faughnan)

  “I think Andy would have preferred a fair fight,” said Sue Coleman outside the Democrat mini-convention in Berkeley. The Moorestown resident had traveled up and down the state with other loyal Kim supporters. “A campaign based on issues and doing right for the people. But the Murphy campaign has sort of weaponized the county line – it looks like the fix was in with all the county chairs who made their commitment. It’s just not fair.”

  Murphy’s advocates standing outside the doors leading to the convention waved signs but didn’t speak on behalf of their candidate. The six young people there for First Lady Tammy Murphy were identified as staff members by Alexandra “Alex” Altman, Murphy’s Communications Director.

  “They’re part of our visibility team,” advised Altman.

  “This is an away game for us,” Altman continued. “We know Andy’s going to be locking this one up but we’re still coming here to compete and share Tammy’s message.”

  As Kim waited for committee members to cast their votes at the mini-convention, he agreed to an impromptu interview.

  “When the First Lady jumped into the race, she immediately got the endorsement of eight or nine county chairs from some of the biggest counties,” said Kim. “It was frustrating because many of those county chairs never even returned my phone calls. They never gave me a chance to talk about what I’m trying to bring to the table. And, unfortunately, a lot of those counties were ones that don’t even have conventions.”

  “I’m a Democrat who has wide appeal, and in 2020, I was one of only seven Democrats in the entire country who won a district that Trump won,” Kim added. “We need people in politics who are builders, not dividers. We want to make sure we have somebody that is going to be able to be a champion for women’s reproductive rights, for fighting against climate change, for trying to prevent gun violence. These are all issues that I’ve worked on in Congress before.”

Tammy Murphy staff members held signs for her candidacy. (Photo by Stephanie Faughnan)

  A prominent concern that has emerged in the state even before this particular race is the state’s ballot layout. Many argue for an approach that doesn’t favor candidates who secure the party line, pointing to the lack of uniformity in how that’s chosen.

  Supporters of the FAIR ballot advocate for grouping races by office, featuring all candidates on a single line with endorsement slogans below each candidate, a system already in place in Salem County. Nonetheless, some dispute how much the party line may even matter.

  “I think people who vote in the primaries are the people who are into politics,” said Stacey Kalb, President of the Beachwood Democrats, a Kim supporter. “I don’t see the party line as a problem because you’re going to find the name Kim. People who are showing up in the primaries are educated enough to go outside the line.”

Ocean County Dems

Compared To GOP

  There are significant differences in the selection processes employed by the two primary political parties in the county. Both are private organizations and governed by their bylaws – state election laws do not have jurisdiction as far as a consistent approach to the process.

  Registered Republicans are said to hold a 2-1 majority in Ocean County, with many independent voters believed to also lean Republican.

  One of the differences between the two conventions included those authorized to vote for party line endorsements.

  “County committee people and elected officials all have a vote,” said Marta Harrison, Ocean County Democratic Committee Executive Director. “As well as the executive board of the organization.”

  Harrison added that before Wyatt Earp became the party’s chairman, there was a different system in place where only party leaders, including municipal chairs, club presidents and elected officials could vote.

  During the Ocean County Republican mini-convention, each municipality was allocated four votes. One vote was designated for the mayor, another for the governing body, a third for the municipal chair, and one for the club president. Additionally, the club president received an extra weighted vote for every five voting districts.

  Eligible voters at the Democrat’s mini-convention also had the ability to cast their votes by Zoom. This was not an option for Republicans.

  Those seeking the party line at the Democrat’s mini-convention had the opportunity to give a short presentation before eligible voters completed their secret written ballots. The Republicans did not give time for speeches. There was a voice vote for some choices and a voting machine for others.

  Both the Republicans and Democrats employed a screening committee to make recommendations.

  “We want to make sure that well qualified people are on the ballot,” Harrison explained. “We want to make sure when there’s a big difference in qualifications that might not be apparent to people, that we bring that out.”

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Stephanie A. Faughnan is an award-winning journalist associated with Micromedia Publications/Jersey Shore Online and the director of Writefully Inspired. Recognized with two Excellence in Journalism awards by the New Jersey Society of Professional Journalists, Stephanie's passion lies in using the power of words to effect positive change. Her achievements include a first-place award in the Best News Series Print category for the impactful piece, "The Plight Of Residents Displaced By Government Land Purchase," and a second-place honor for the Best Arts and Entertainment Coverage category, specifically for "Albert Music Hall Delivers Exciting Line-Up For 25th Anniversary Show." Stephanie can be contacted by email at