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Fractured Glouco GOP braces for another battle

A usually united GOP organization in Gloucester County - where Democrats outnumber Republicans, 2-1 - splintered in a rare, bitter primary election last week.

A usually united GOP organization in Gloucester County - where Democrats outnumber Republicans, 2-1 - splintered in a rare, bitter primary election last week.

Tomorrow, it's round two.

Bill Fey of Franklin Township is challenging Loran Oglesby of West Deptford in her bid for another term as county GOP chairperson amid ugly infighting.

Whoever wins the vote cast by a few hundred representatives from the municipalities will inherit an organization ripped at the seams. The party broke into three factions this spring, and each had at least one victory and one defeat in primaries on all levels of government last Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Gloucester County Democrats, who have controlled county government for two decades, sailed quietly through primary season with no contested races and could concentrate on fall elections. County Freeholder Director Stephen M. Sweeney, who has been in charge for years, is also the state Senate majority leader and wields considerable influence.

Fey, who describes himself as the "Republican Party chairman of one of the last GOP towns in Gloucester," says the party is in peril and needs a new leader to reinvigorate its members. He called on Oglesby to resign in February, but she refused.

Oglesby, who has been the county party chair for four years, says Fey is inexperienced and doesn't understand that the party has been making inroads in Democratic domination. "It's an uphill battle," she said.

Democrats control 18 of the county's 24 towns, and the party has 70,000 registered voters - twice the number on the Republican rolls.

Fey, a senior manager of Internet technology, has served as Franklin's GOP chair for two years and spearheaded a takeover of the Township Committee last November when Democratic incumbents could not defend themselves against charges of poor management.

"We did our homework and won back the voters' trust," said Fey, 47. He blames Oglesby for past defeats and calls her a poor manager.

Oglesby, also 47, a sales associate for Sears Holding, accuses Fey's faction of sowing dissent at a time when the party needs to come together.

While those two were butting heads, a third faction, aligned with conservative gubernatorial candidate Steve Lonegan, won the GOP nominations for two county freeholder seats and for sheriff. Lonegan himself lost to the more moderate Christopher J. Christie.

In some ways, the infighting mirrors that in the state and national party, as conservative and moderate wings compete for Republican control.

After the Lonegan slate's victory, Oglesby congratulated Ron Brittin and Stephen Austin, who won the freeholder primary, and Chris Marrero, who got the nod for sheriff. She said she would be happy to campaign for them and believed "hard-line conservatives" were "sending a message they want to see a more conservative approach to government."

But Brittin and his running mates have thrown their support to Fey. Brittin attributed "the turmoil" in the party to Oglesby and said she was difficult to work with.

In April, Oglesby sent Brittin a letter, saying his support of a primary challenger to U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo in the Second District could not "be tolerated." She asked him to step aside as the GOP chair of Mantua Township, while saying he was still "entitled to support" whomever he wanted, the letter said.

Unifying the county party organization amid the vitriol and continuing accusations from all sides won't be easy.

But Fey says the party's future is at stake. While his primary freeholder candidates - Larry Wallace and Phyllis Scapellato - lost, his legislative candidates in Districts 4 and 5 won. So did candidates who appeared on his ticket in Township Committee races in Harrison and South Harrison.

Oglesby's only win was a pair of legislative candidates in District 3, whom party chairmen in Cumberland and Salem also supported. District 3 covers parts of each county.

But in a sign of waning support, Oglesby had found it difficult to find two candidates willing to run in the Gloucester freeholder primary under the Regular Organization Republican Party banner. She submitted her name as a placeholder but later was forced to declare herself an active candidate. She found only one person - newcomer Stephen Austin - to run.

She came in last, and Austin placed fifth. They trailed behind Fey's slate and lost to Lonegan's.

Oglesby blamed Fey's faction for her loss, saying "all their negativity" and "trashing and bashing" of the party hurt her. She called her rivals "insurgents" who cared little about the party, which she said had been united for at least a decade.

Whatever the outcome, both Oglesby and Fey say they will try to mend fences after tomorrow's vote, although neither was enthusiastic.

"I will reach out across the lines to Mr. Fey and his group and obviously offer an olive branch to work with our party and hope that they will work with us," Oglesby said.

Fey said there "will always be a place for Loran," but "if she were to come back, it wouldn't be at an executive level. But we're the Republican Party, and we're a big tent."