When Mercer County Democrats chose to put Assemblyman Dan Benson on “the line” Sunday over five-term Mercer County Executive Brian Hughes, the incumbent made it clear he was going to take his case to the voters.
But what a difference a day makes.
Hughes announced Tuesday he would end his campaign for a sixth term, throwing his support behind Benson in the June primary.
“It has become clear that the best path forward for Mercer Democrats is for me to step aside,” he said, adding the decision is not being made lightly “after more than 20 years in public office fighting for this county and every last resident.”
Micah Rasmussen, director of the Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics at Rider University, said prior to the convention that Hughes’ chances of winning without party support would be tougher, especially without the prominent ballot position.
Now, Rasmussen said, “I think he finally got the memo.”
“I really attribute this to his digesting the results of the convention,” he said. “If there were any viable way forward, I think he’d have taken it.”
Rasmussen points out another factor in the about face is Asm. Wayne DeAngelo — a top supporter of Hughes — switching his support to Benson, his Assembly running mate.
Hughes touted the fact that he helped to end GOP rule in Mercer County two decades ago, “[taking] on the Republican machine…and won.”
“I’m deeply proud of the fact that since I took office, Republicans have not won a single countywide race,” he said. “We pushed back Republican rule and turned Mercer into a model for progressive leadership for the entire state.”
Other career highlights shared by the Hughes campaign include preserving more than 5,700 acres of open space, an award-winning county park system, and passing among the toughest pay-to-play laws in New Jersey.
But Hughes’ record came under scrutiny after a scathing report from the state Comptroller’s office concerning tax penalties the county paid and his long-time chief financial officer for the county not having the credentials to hold the job.
The campaign adds Hughes will continue to support reforms to make the county more responsive and accountable to its residents. It also said Hughes will continue to support ending the very thing he did not capture on Sunday, the county line.
“But this is not a time for division within the Democratic party,” the release stated.
Hughes said it’s time to unify for the good of the party “to ensure our record of success continues in Mercer County.”
With that, he announced his support for Benson.
“I believe Dan Benson has demonstrated his commitment to this county and our party, and he has my support in his campaign for County Executive,” he said.
Benson thanked Hughes for his endorsement and his public service to the county that spanned more than 20 years.
“I appreciate his outreach to me and his offer of support and assistance,” he said. “With the path ahead clear, it’s time for our party to come together.”
In addition to Hughes and DeAngelo, U.S. Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman has also endorsed Benson.
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