New Jersey Assemblyman Joe Howarth, a moderate Republican who waved the “Make America Great Again” flag in a last-ditch effort to save his seat, was defeated Tuesday by two party-supported candidates in New Jersey’s 8th District primary election.

His victorious opponents, Assemblyman Ryan Peters and Burlington County Sheriff Jean Stanfield, questioned the sincerity of Howarth’s loyalty to President Donald Trump. Peters characterized it as part of a plan to depress GOP turnout in the fall and “make another Norcross seat,” a reference to South Jersey Democratic power broker George E. Norcross III of Camden County.

In a particularly New Jersey-style twist, Howarth received financial support from two unions — the Ironworkers and the Electricians — in an apparent signal that Democrats may have thought running against a candidate identified with the president would be to their advantage in November.

Peters and Stanfield claimed victory shortly after 9 p.m. inside the Burlington County Republican headquarters on High Street in Mount Holly.

They will run against Democrats Gina LaPlaca of Lumberton and Mark Natale of Marlton, lawyers who ran with the party’s endorsement and easily defeated John “Johnny” Bravo of Marlton in the Democratic primary for the 8th District.

Meanwhile, in what Peters called Howarth’s “Plan C" to undermine the Republican nominees, the New Jersey Globe website reported that Tom Giangiulio Jr., a former Republican councilman from Waterford, had filed to run as a MAGA-branded independent.

“He only turned Trump about four weeks ago,” Peters said of Howarth. “He got his friend to run as a MAGA independent. If you can wrap your head around that, call me.”

Assemblyman Ryan Peters inside Burlington County GOP Headquarters.
Amy Rosenberg
Assemblyman Ryan Peters inside Burlington County GOP Headquarters.

New Jersey’s 8th Legislative District, one of only a handful with contested primaries among the state’s 40 districts, covers portions of Burlington County, which flexed an increasingly Democratic muscle in the 2018 midterms, sending Democrat Andy Kim to Congress from its part of the 3rd Congressional District and ousting Republican incumbent Tom MacArthur despite his support in Ocean County. The 8th also includes pieces of Atlantic and Camden Counties.

In the 6th Legislative District, which includes Cherry Hill and surrounding Camden County towns plus parts of Burlington, Norcross ally Assemblyman Louis Greenwald, the majority leader in the lower house, and Assemblywoman Pamela Lampitt defeated two challengers encouraged by the South Jersey Progressive Democrats grassroots group. The newcomers are Julian Jordan III and Danie Moss-Velasco.

In the 3rd District, incumbent Democratic Assemblymen John Burzichelli and Adam Taliaferro defeated primary challenger John Kalnas, a Gibbstown retiree who ran for the seat in 2015 and 2017, and branded himself as an “FDR Democrat.” The 3rd District includes all of Salem County and parts of Gloucester and Cumberland Counties.

In the 8th District, Howarth fell out of favor with the powerful Burlington County GOP when leaders suspected he was about to bolt to the Democrats, as the district’s Sen. Dawn Marie Addiego did last year. So the party gave its endorsement, and prime ballot spot, to Stanfield, retiring as county sheriff, and first-term Assemblyman Peters.

Howarth, of Marlton, then rebranded, qualified for the ballot under the “MAGA Republican” label, and accused his opponents of being disloyal to the president. Attorney R. Jason Huf, a Lumberton resident, ran alone in the Republican primary under the “Fresh Leadership” banner.

Howarth could not be reached for comment.

Peters, a commander in the active duty Navy Reserve, said he supported Trump as commander-in-chief and agrees with many of his policies. He said much of Howarth’s fund-raising came from Democratic sources.

New Jersey pollster Patrick Murray of Monmouth University said the 8th District dynamic tested the power of the Trump brand among New Jersey’s Republicans.

He noted that in the 2018 midterm primaries, Republican Seth Grossman picked off more moderate Republicans by running on an unambiguous pro-Trump campaign. Grossman went on to lose a closer-than-expected race to Democrat Jeff Van Drew, now the congressman representing in New Jersey’s 2nd District.

“Is it possible for a Trump candidate to run off a line and win against the party organization candidates?” Murray said earlier Tuesday. “Democrats are sensing blood." ."

Sean Earlen, chairman of the Burlington County GOP, said he did not think there was a larger message for Republicans in Howarth’s loss. “I don’t think the MAGA branding was sincere,” he said. He said Republican priorities in New Jersey would center on opposing Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy on taxes and other issues.