Anti-Trump N.J. Republican Jon Bramnick launches bid for governor

“I’m going to represent the traditional values of the Republican Party, not simply the voice of one person,” Bramnick said in a phone interview ahead of his kickoff. “I don’t think one person, whether it’s Donald Trump or anyone else, should dictate the future of the Republican Party.”

Bramnick, 70, is a personal injury attorney who lives in Union County’s Westfield and grew up in Plainfield, where he served on the council from 1984 to 1991. He joined the state Assembly in 2003 and in 2012 became the minority leader following the sudden death of his predecessor in that post, Alex DeCroce. He was elected to the state Senate in 2021.

That year’s GOP gubernatorial nominee, Jack Ciattarelli, a former Assembly colleague of Bramnick’s, has said he intends to run but has not formally launched his candidacy. Bill Spadea, a far-right, pro-Trump radio host, has also been making the rounds in New Jersey for a potential gubernatorial run.

Immediately after the 2023 state legislative elections, in which Democrats unexpectedly gained seats against Republicans who had emphasized culture war issues in their campaigns, Bramnick took a shot at Spadea, saying “most New Jerseyans don’t want hateful rhetoric from a know-it-all radio talking head who has never had to make a decision as an elected official.”

Bramnick is seeking to appeal to Republican voters with a message of electability in a state with nearly 1 million more registered Democrats than Republicans, and where many traditionally Republican suburban towns moved firmly into Democrats’ column in the Trump era.

In a campaign kickoff video, a group of
Jersey-accented men playing poker
discuss Bramnick’s candidacy with talk about the state’s frequently debated cured meat. “Listen, Jon Bramnick, he’s the only Republican who can win the general election,” one of them says. “He calls it Taylor Ham, not pork roll. He’s got it all.”

Many of Bramnick’s jokes center on Jersey stereotypes.
At a 2017 show
, he joked that he never hears about extraterrestrial sightings in New Jersey.

“They’re always from, like, Arkansas. Can you imagine if they took Tony from Bayonne out of his bed in the middle of the night? There’d be four missing Martians,” he said.

New Jersey is a reliably blue state in federal elections, but its voters have repeatedly elected and reelected Republican governors, including Christie. In fact Murphy, who ran as a progressive, in 2021 became the first Democratic governor to win reelection since 1977, and by only about 3 percentage points over Ciattarelli.

“My argument is the state’s not going far to the right. So you have an opportunity here to at least bring it back to the middle. So you have a choice: Continue one-party rule or support a candidate who actually can win.”

Bramnick’s legislative accomplishments include a
2012 law to require defibrillators in schools
and a recently enacted measure to require school districts
to teach about grief
. More important, Bramnick said, was his work as a Republican leader — both as minority leader or conference leader — to help negotiate major state policies like ending the estate tax and capping local government spending.

“We were able to negotiate and get budgets passed that were much less efficient, with much less spending, than what you see today,” Bramnick said.

Among Bramnick’s more controversial policy achievements was a recent law he sponsored with Democratic Senate President Nick Scutari, also a personal injury lawyer from Union County, to raise minimum insurance requirements for drivers, which the insurance industry said would lead to higher rates. Bramnick called the bill “pro-consumer.”

“It’s very fair and I’m very proud of it,” Bramnick said. “Most of the calls I get from constituents aren’t, ‘I love my insurance companies, they pay everything they have to pay and it’s great.’ It’s, ‘They’re not paying my medical bill, or ‘I was seriously injured in an accident, I got $15,000 and that’s it.’”

Bramnick’s announcement is accompanied by videos of support from three Republicans who have little to no involvement in New Jersey politics: Former U.S. House Speaker John Boehner; former Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush; and former Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, a fellow Union County native who was New Jersey’s U.S. Attorney in the 1990s.

Missing from the video endorsements was one of Bramnick’s closest political allies: Christie, who left office in 2018 as the most unpopular governor since the advent of public polling.

Bramnick said he didn’t ask Christie in part because he was in the middle of a presidential campaign. Christie dropped his campaign earlier this month. Bramnick said he hasn’t asked New Jersey Republicans for endorsements yet.

“Later on, I wouldn’t reject it,” Bramnick said. “He won two terms. He must have been doing something right. And he’s a friend.”

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