New Jersey Republican Machine Unites Against Steve Lonegan (Updated)

Updated 4:37 p.m. | New Jersey Republicans avoided a nightmare scenario Wednesday night in the highly competitive, open-seat race for the 3rd District.  

Ocean County Republicans endorsed former Randolph Mayor Tom MacArthur as their preferred nominee. The endorsement comes five days after the Burlington County GOP also backed MacArthur.  

In 2008, the two county parties supported different Republicans for the nod and lost the 3rd District. In hindsight, many Garden State Republicans blame the party's loss on that feud over the GOP nominee. But this cycle, MacArthur has defeated two other contenders — Tom's River Councilman Mo Hill and former Bogota Mayor Steve Lonegan for the local GOP's backing. As a result, MacArthur is the odds-on favorite to win the GOP nomination versus the likely Democratic nominee, Burlington County Freeholder Aimee Belgard.  

Yet even though MacArthur is the favorite, Lonegan vowed to continue his bid in the June 3 primary, according to The Asbury Park Press . Last year, Lonegan ran against now-Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., and earned the support of some national tea party groups. He is well known around the state as a result.  

But in New Jersey, the county party endorsement process is highly consequential in picking the nominee. Endorsed candidates receive  preferential ballot placement called "the line" — an advantage that's proven difficult to overcome on the primary ballot.  

Lonegan remained undeterred in a Thursday phone interview, reiterating his intent win the primary campaign.  

He noted that he carried the district in his Senate race against Booker and repeatedly cited news reports that MacArthur donated $25,000 to the Ocean County GOP.  

He added that he has recruited like-minded down-ballot candidates to appear on the ballot with him. He argued that would mitigate MacArthur's better ballot placement.  

“I’ll have my own party line,” he explained in a phone interview. “I’ve never been an establishment candidate."  

New Jersey's 3rd District is one of the most sought-after House seats in the country. It is an open-seat race to replace retiring Rep. Jon Runyan, R-N.J.  

Earlier this year, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee named the district one of the top House targets of 2014, and it is rated a Tossup by Rothenberg Political Report/Roll Call.  

Democrats view the district as one of their only opportunities to pick up a seat in an increasingly defensive crouch. Rep. David Jolly's special election victory in Florida and President Barack Obama's sagging poll numbers have only boosted the GOP's hopes for this fall.  

Democrats essentially cleared their field for Belgard in 2013. She also has support from EMILY's List .  

New Jersey's filing deadline is March 31. The primary is on June 3.