As the current Biden administration experiences a decline in approval by Americans as the public watches the numerous issues inflate, more and more of the public is rethinking their political vote in the upcoming 2024 elections. Confidence in President Joe Biden has been declining in the mainstream, and confidence in Vice President Kamala Harris has taken a nosedive even with Democrats.
New Jersey is a state that has been traditionally blue. The state has been considered a Democrat stronghold, supporting the Democratic candidate in every presidential election since 1992. But the trend to look to the right for answers in current issues is even occurring in New Jersey, with one town in a complete political reversal. In recent years, the ranks of elected municipal Democrats have increased in traditionally Republican-leaning Morris County, although the GOP still holds a 20,115-person advantage in voter registration (136,399 Republicans to 119,284 Democrats, along with 141,209 unaffiliated voters.)
In East Hanover, New Jersey, the state’s elected leaders dropped a political bombshell on Tuesday, announcing that longtime Mayor Joseph Pannullo and the entire township council had switched their party affiliation from Democrat to Republican.
As Daily Record reported, Morris County Republican Committee Chairwoman Laura Ali said in a statement that Panullo, council President Frank DeMaio and fellow members Brian Brokaw, Carolyn Jandoli and Michael Martorelli had all joined the GOP “after months of good conversations.”
Pannullo, who’s represented the town of 11,000 people since 2007, didn’t respond to messages seeking comment. He didn’t cite a specific factor motivating the switch in the Republican Committee statement. But, he added: “Municipal leaders have a responsibility to best represent their constituents, and it is our belief this change of party is in the best interest of the community. As the nastiness, rhetoric and social media vitriol of national politics continues to infiltrate local governance, we collectively determined this was the best course of action to keep the focus on local issues impacting our community.”
Ali, the county chairwoman, said Republicans were “ecstatic” about the East Hanover switch.
“The entire Republican Party in Morris County is welcoming Mayor Pannullo and East Hanover’s four council members to our family with open arms and great excitement!” she said. “East Hanover is an exceptionally run town with great leadership. It is clear we share the same values as Mayor Panullo and his Council and we are so excited to have them be part of our Republican family.”
Donald Trump won big in East Hanover in 2020, capturing 66% of the vote, according to state records. Last year, Republican Paul DeGroot carried the township with 68% in his unsuccessful bid to unseat Democratic U.S. Rep. Mikie Sherrill in the 11th Congressional District. Sherrill won with 57% of the overall district, including 53% in Morris County.
Democrats are down, but not out. In Morris Township, Mendham Township and Boonton, among other towns in New Jersey, they are holding on. On Tuesday, a Mendham Township Republican dropped a lawsuit challenging last November’s election results, allowing Democrats to take a second seat on the governing committee of the former Republican stronghold.
The Democratic Party chair refuses to accept the turn of the tide in spite of the recent results. “Of course, I am disappointed,” Morris County’s Democratic chairwoman, Amalia Duarte, said in an emailed statement. “But, the real story is that Morris County is rapidly trending more Democratic, as we saw in the last election cycle. We won new municipal seats, flipped Morris Township to entirely Democratic and all of our incumbents were re-elected, including in East Hanover.”
The party switch was first reported by the New Jersey Globe political news site.
In the GOP statement, Pannullo said his priorities would remain the same: “Combating the overburdening and unrealistic fair-share housing mandates, keeping taxes stable, enhancing our parks and investing in public safety needs to be our local priorities. Every decision my administration makes is about putting East Hanover first, this is no different.”
Pannullo, DeMaio and Martorelli are up for re-election in November. Notably, statewide redistricting moved East Hanover this year from the Democrat-controlled 27th legislative district to the Republican-represented 26th. State Assemblyman Brian Bergen, who represents the 26th district, said the Morris County Republican party “has incredible momentum, and this is a great indication of our progress.”
“Mayor Pannullo and his entire council are a great team, and we are glad to have them join us,” Bergen said. “2023 will be a big year and this is just the beginning.”
The Daily Record noted:
The Democrats’ Duarte, however, argued that her party has enjoyed a net gain in Morris County compared to past years, including Democratic representation from Sherrill in Congress for a majority of the county’s municipalities. “If you look back 20 years ago, Democrats made up only 15% of registered voters in Morris County and Republicans were at 32%,” she said. “Now, Morris County is 30% Democrat, and Republicans are at 34%. This trend is just going to continue; they are stagnant. Democrats in Morris County have momentum.”
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