Round One: Webber V. Ghee

No matter how you slice it, the video of newly-minted congressional candidate Antony Ghee doesn’t look good. Here is Ghee refusing to say who he voted for in the last three presidential elections. Those would be in 2008, 2012 and 2016.

Instead, he said “as a soldier, we learn it doesn’t matter who the president is. … Who I voted for is my personal choice.”  Ghee is a major in the Army Reserves.  

Ghee’s response was reasonable for most people, but not for someone who just announced his candidacy for the Republican congressional nomination in the 11th District. Many voters want to know how someone voted in the past, because it shows their values and thought process. It’s not a tough question.

But it is a “gotcha” question.

The man who posed the query to Ghee at a recent political meeting in Passaic County obviously knew that the candidate had just registered as a Republican. So, he wanted to put Ghee on the spot in terms of the last three elections, two of which were won by Democrat Barack Obama.

Even so, candidates need to be able to handle “gotcha” questions. 

Ghee’s inability to do so evoked a predictable response from Jay Webber, another candidate in the race to succeed the retiring Rodney P. Frelinghuysen.

“From Mr. Ghee’s dodging, we know that he voted for Obama, Obama and Hillary in the last three presidential elections,” Webber said in a statement. “It’s equally obvious Mr. Ghee doesn’t trust Republican primary voters enough to come clean about it.” 

Actually, we don’t absolutely “know” that Ghee voted twice for Obama and once for Clinton. Webber is assuming that; he doesn’t know it. Still, Webber is on solid ground in pointing out Ghee’s dodge. 

Ghee’s immediate response was to say that’s how Webber operates. He elaborated, “If your background is different than his, he assumes you cannot possibly believe in conservative principles.” 

It will be interesting to see if this issue has “legs,” as the campaign unfolds.

There, of course, is some perspective here and it’s not comforting to Ghee. 

Some may recall the 2014 U.S. Senate campaign in Kentucky when Mitch McConnell was briefly thought to be in trouble. He was being challenged by Alison Lundergan Grimes, the Democratic Secretary of State. But Grimes’ campaign all but disintegrated when she refused to disclose her 2012 presidential vote. Obama was reelected that year, but he lost Kentucky. Grimes’ refusal to state the obvious about her vote certainly made her look something less than forthright.

With this District 11 spat ongoing, Morris County Republicans gathered Tuesday night for a fundraiser thrown by Sheriff James Gannon. 

Gala fundraisers are sort of a tradition for county sheriffs, although they have changed with the times. Some 30 years ago, then Sheriff John M. Fox held an annual “posse,” which was a raucous male-only party. Really. When Edward Rochford became sheriff in 1993, he transformed his annual fundraiser into a more sedate St. Patrick’s Day celebration open to both genders. Gannon, the current sheriff, has gone even more ecumenical. His fundraiser officially honors both St. Patrick’s Day and St. Joseph’s Day.

Some Republicans enjoying a band, Irish step dancers and ample amounts of food and booze said they weren’t all that interested in Ghee’s voting history, noting that there are times when genuine issues must take precedent. 

Assemblyman Michael P. Carroll, R-25th, said voting history aside, it’s important for Ghee to “accentuate conservative values.”  But he added, “He can’t out-conservative Jay Webber.”

But as one GOP source put it, one thing is sure, “Webber is going to pounce on this.” 

Indeed.

Webber, who for the record had no trouble reeling off his last three presidential votes – McCain, Romney and Trump if you had any doubt – said it’s a big deal because it goes to the heart of a candidate’s beliefs. He suggested that what’s relevant is not only what a candidate thinks today, but what he thought 10 years ago. 

Now when this question was asked of Ghee last weekend, he would have done much better to say the following: 

“Let me answer that question by saying that people change their minds. Yes, before I became a Republican, I may have very well voted for Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. But that was then and this is now. And now I am a Republican and a believer in conservative values. Ronald Reagan, who I know is one of Jay Webber’s political heroes, was once a Democrat. I assume he may have voted for FDR a few times, but that didn’t stop him from becoming a great Republican president. Just like the political inclinations of my past will not deter me from being the best Republican  congressman that I can be.”

Ghee never said that. But just in case he did, or does in the future, Webber is prepared. 

“Ronald Reagan didn’t register as a Republican five minutes before he said he was running for president,” Webber said.

 

*****

The race for the Republican congressional nomination in the 11th District may remain a two-man battle between Jay Webber and Antony Ghee.  

Montville businessman Jerry Langer said Wednesday that he will not be a candidate. Langer said the main obstacle was meeting what can be cumbersome financial disclosure requirements for federal candidates.

Langer, who owns a Jersey City trucking company with his two brothers, said his finances are intertwined with theirs. Langer said it would have been just about impossible for him to disclose his finances without also making public those of his brothers, which he didn’t want to do. 

Langer, who was on then presidential candidate Chris Christie’s finance committee, is not as of yet endorsing a candidate.

He said he knows Webber, but doesn’t know Ghee. Any endorsement will not be made until he has considered the qualifications of both candidates, Langer said.

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