Some Republican leaders are quietly suggesting that New Jersey’s oldest member of the Legislature, 87-year-old state Sen. Samuel Thompson (R-Old Bridge), should not seek re-election, while Old Bridge Mayor Owen Henry is the leading candidate for the seat, New The Jersey Globe learned from multiple sources on condition of anonymity.

GOP insiders prefer Thompson to leave of his own accord without a primary.

But Thompson does not appear to be ready to step down and is not aware of discussions regarding his political future.

“I haven’t heard a word about it,” he said. “I am seeking re-election. I will run for office and I will be re-elected. I have no doubt.”

It’s also unclear whether Henry is ready to challenge him in the primary when Thompson, who turns 88 in July, seeks the party’s endorsement for another four-year term.

Henry did not immediately respond to a text message at 2:04 p.m.

In any case, the matter will be resolved soon. Ocean’s first application deadline is at the end of this month, and candidates will need to submit their letter of intent by then if they want to be considered for an organizational line.

Other counties in the 12th Legislative District — Middlesex, Monmouth and Burlington — have control committees and caucuses coming up over the next two months. Burlington, which represents the smallest part of the county, has a Feb. 10 filing deadline and a Feb. 18 review committee.

A former chairman of the Middlesex County Republican Party, Thompson served as a member of the Assembly for fourteen years until a 2011 legislative redistricting unexpectedly opened his path to the state Senate.

Reportedly in good health, physically and cognitively, he remains an active legislator and is popular among Republican leaders.

But Republicans worry that Thompson’s age could lead to his absence for the next four years, which could be a problem if the GOP expands its Senate footprint in November’s midterm elections.

A move to support Henry for a Senate seat would preserve senatorial courtesy for Republicans in Middlesex, a district with one of the state’s top Democratic machines. Statewide, Republicans are making political sense to keep a Senate seat in the second-largest state.

That opinion left two Republicans, Assemblyman Rob Clifton (R-Mattawan) and freshman Alex Sauki (R-Jackson), out of the Senate debate.

Henry, 63, returned the mayorship of Old Bridge to the Republicans when he defeated incumbent Patrick Gillespie by a margin of 53-47% in 2011. He was re-elected by fourteen percent in 2015 and 2019. Henry previously served on the school board. Old Bridge is the 21st largest municipality in New Jersey.

The 12th District is solidly Republican; Thompson was re-elected to a third term in 2021 with 65% of the vote.

In 2017, Thompson faced a primary challenge from Arthur Haney, former mayor of Old Bridge and Freeholder of Middlesex County. Haney edged Thompson in Old Bridge by 20 votes out of 2,046 cast, but Thompson won Monmouth and Ocean with 65% each, and Burlington, where he was off the line, by 51 votes, resulting in a ten-point victory. In the end, Thompson beat Haney by 1,404 votes, 60%-40%. (Haney died in 2018 at the age of 70.)

The next primaries do not scare him.

“I’d be happy to take them on any time they perform,” Thompson said.

Still, Thompson may not want to see his career end the way his former running mate Joseph Azolina (R-Middletown) did.

Ozalina had a long legislative career beginning in 1965 and served eleven non-consecutive terms in the State Assembly, interspersed with a two-year stint in the state Senate in the early 1970s and an unsuccessful bid for the Senate in 1987. But by 2005, Azzolina, 79, lost the Republican primary to Amy Handlin (R-Middletown) by 624 votes after Handlin, then a Monmouth County freeholder, replaced him on the line in their home district.

Thompson refused to take a side in the Ozzalina primary against Handlin, where he was on the ballot for re-election.

“Running on the line with Amy in Monmouth County, it wouldn’t be right for me to turn around and try to hit her.” he told PoliticsNJ reporter Steve Kornacki at that time. “And in Middlesex I bond with Joe, so it wouldn’t be right for me to hit him either.”

Henry is up for re-election this year, and a run for Senate will spark an open mayoral race. Republicans would be strong favorites to hold the seat. Republican Jack Cittarelli carried Old Bridge by 15 percent, 57%-42% against Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy in 2021. Donald Trump won Old Bridge by 1 point and 339 votes in 2020.

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