When Republican Adam Wingate ran for Gloucester County commissioner last year, he faced an onslaught of campaign mailers from Democrats attacking him for things like “the extremism of the Gloucester County Republicans.”
One ad highlighted a social media post by incumbent Republican commissioner Nick DeSilvio that said “abortion is never medically necessary to save the life of the mother.”
“This is what’s on the ballot this year,” the ad said.
DeSilvio, who was elected commissioner in 2021, was not actually on the ballot that year. But he is running this year as a state Senate candidate in the 4th Legislative District — arguably the most vulnerable Democratic-held seat in the upper house.
Wingate, a former Harrison Township committeeman, thinks those ads helped Democrats defeat him and his running mate last year, allowing Democrats to retain control of the board of commissioners.
Now, he thinks Republicans are potentially dooming themselves in the state Legislature by running DeSilvio in the 4th District and state Sen. Ed Durr (R-Gloucester) — who said in a 2020 Facebook argument that, when it comes to abortion, “A woman does have a choice! Keep her legs closed!” — in the neighboring 3rd District.
“I know personally women that are friends and family that are Republican who are not happy with those comments. They don’t need anyone calling them a murderer, evil or telling them that they should have closed their legs,” Wingate, who may run for Assembly on a ticket opposite Durr’s in the June Republican primary, said in a phone interview.
Durr and DeSilvio — who both lost races for office before winning in 2021 — dismiss Wingate’s criticism as sour grapes. But Wingate’s sentiment is shared by Atlantic County GOP Chair Don Purdy, whose county makes up less than 5 percent of the district’s population but who has disagreed with the district’s other two Republican leaders — Gloucester County Republican Chair Jacci Vigilante and Camden County GOP Chair Tom Crone Jr. — about the makeup of the Republican ticket in the 4th Legislative District.
“My point is having statements about women keeping their legs shut and abortion — that’s not going to ever stand in Atlantic County,” Purdy said in a phone interview.
Social media posts divide South Jersey GOP
The Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe v. Wade last year was widely seen as contributing to Democrats’ fending off an anticipated “Republican wave” in the 2022 midterms, and there are signs that it continues to motivate Democrats.
Wingate’s 2022 loss was a major disappointment for the Gloucester County GOP, which thought it was on a roll following Durr’s shocking 2021 victory over then-Democratic Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-Gloucester), then New Jersey’s second-most powerful elected official. That race caught the vaunted South Jersey Democratic machine off guard, with an unanticipated backlash to Gov. Phil Murphy’s pandemic policies helping defeat Sweeney. Since then, Democrats have been paying closer attention.
“Let’s be honest, [Durr] caught lightning in a bottle in 2021,” Wingate said. “That has a lot to do with a great top of the ticket in [GOP gubernatorial candidate] Jack Ciattarelli. Ciattarelli won Gloucester County by 10% and it was a trickle-down effect from there.”
The social media posts by both DeSilvio and Durr — who employs DeSilvio’s wife, Tina, as his chief of staff — have recently circulated in Republican circles.
In one Facebook conversation four years ago, DeSilvio said “I consider abortion murder and anybody that supports it, is considered ‘evil’ to me!!’” POLITICO also viewed a screenshot of DeSilvio’s “About” page on Facebook where, under “basic info,” he wrote “I believe in Jesus. No muslims here !!” He has since removed the anti-Muslim language.
Durr, a truck driver, himself faced controversy over anti-Muslim social media posts, but they did not publicly surface until right after his election. He apologized and met with Muslim advocates and members of the community, then introduced legislation to recognize two Islamic holidays.
If he runs for Assembly, Wingate will likely join a ticket in the 3rd District with Salem County Commissioner Mickey Ostrum and Assemblymember Beth Sawyer (R-Gloucester), who ran with Durr in 2021 but quickly developed a tense relationship with him.
Durr is running for reelection alongside Assemblymember Bethanne McCarthy Patrick (R-Gloucester) and Hopewell Township Committeemember Tom Tedesco. Democrats have not yet announced their candidates in the district, but Sweeney has been mulling whether to seek a return to the state Senate or to concentrate on his expected 2025 run for governor instead.
In the neighboring 4th District, 19-year incumbent state Sen. Fred Madden (D-Gloucester) has not yet announced whether he’ll retire, though many expect him to. DeSilvio is expected to run with unsuccessful 2021 Assembly candidate Denise Gonzalez and Michael Clark, a 24-year-old who in a Facebook post said that “abortion is and always will be murder.” No rival Republican has come forward yet, but Purdy favors for Matthew Walker, who was Buena’s first Black committeeman, as the district’s state Senate candidate.
Durr said Wingate is using him and DeSilvio as an excuse for his own failure at the polls last year.
“Attacking me personally sounds more like a Democratic playbook, so anybody using that sounds very Democratic to me. They generally go after the person and not the policy,” Durr said.
As for his Facebook post that said a woman can “keep her legs closed” as an alternative to abortion, Durr said, “I might have said it in a crude manner in 2020, but I was also not a candidate at the time.”
“As to there being options to not having abortions, contraceptives and abstinence from sex is a way for not getting pregnant,” Durr said.
“I’m sure you can find there’s been flaws in my life. And I’m not a perfect man. As far as I’m concerned there’s only one perfect man, and they crucified him, didn’t they?” Durr said.
DeSilvio said in a phone interview that he does believe abortion is at times medically necessary, and that he thinks it should be legal in cases of rape or incest.
“I just think nowadays women use it as a form of contraception, and I don’t believe abortion should be used that way,” he said.
As for his “no Muslims” comment on his Facebook page, which is undated, DeSilvio said it was likely from a very long time ago.
“I should have been more clear: I don’t hate Muslims. It’s a peaceful and loving religion. I should have made that very clear. I was talking about more like radicals. Like the type of person that joins ISIS or Al Qaida.”
DeSilvio primarily blamed Purdy, the Atlantic County Republican chair, for circulating his social media posts.
“I don’t know the reason why he just doesn’t want me as a candidate. But Gloucester and Camden [Counties], I’ve held interviews with them and they want me,” he said. “That’s actually disturbing to me, that they’re creating fights within our own party.”
Purdy doesn’t exactly deny it.
“It’s not me being against DeSilvio. I don’t like his practices, and I don’t think he should be what we send to Trenton. They’re not quite lying about that when they say I don’t support him going to Trenton,” he said.
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