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GOP support for DiFrancesco waning

Originally appeared in Courier Post on Saturday, April 21, 2001
Gannett State Bureau

A significant number of Republican senators have lost confidence in acting Gov. Donald DiFrancesco's bid for the governorship, Senate sources said.

As many as 15 of 24 GOP senators believe DiFrancesco should drop out of the race, senators said Friday.

A Republican source also said former Rep. Bob Franks has agreed to step in if DiFrancesco with draws. Officially, Franks is saying his support remains with DiFrancesco.

"I had heard there are 15 senators that felt strongly, who had significant concerns about Don continuing," Sen. Andrew Ciesla, R-Ocean, said as he left the State House on Friday.

Ciesla said he had not personally talked with the senators, who he said were in the Republican caucus room Friday morning.

As for whether he was among the more than a dozen senators, Ciesla said, "Not yet."

He said the ethical questions raised about DiFrancesco's land and business deals had been politicized and could be overcome. But what concerns the senators, Ciesla said, is the "Clintonesque-style rumors" that have been circulating in the State House for months about DiFrancesco's private life.

"What else there is potentially out there is key," Ciesla said.

Four Senate sources confirmed that between 13 and 15 GOP senators favor DiFrancesco's withdrawal. One said several senators had threatened not to run if he is on the top of the ticket.

The GOP senators said they fear that DiFrancesco's woes will have a coattail effect and cost the Senate its Republican majority.

DiFrancesco's campaign manager, Charlie Smith, said DiFrancesco has no intention of dropping out of the race and labeled as rumor the talk that Republicans want him to drop out. "The governor has enjoyed great support from his colleagues," Smith said. "There are a lot of unjustified rumors being spread to hurt the Republican Party."

As for the rumors, Smith said, "Governor DiFrancesco should be entitled to run a campaign on issues that matter to voters and not have to answer every one of these slanderous partisan rumors."

In addition to Ciesla, DiFrancesco's vocal supporters included Sen. Joe Kyrillos, R-Monmouth, whom DiFrancesco has chosen to head the state GOP, and veteran lawmaker Sen. Walter Kavanaugh, R-Somerset.

Kavanaugh termed the published reports questioning DiFrancesco's ethics "deplorable."

"Why should he drop out?" Kavanaugh asked. "I would be very disgusted if someone would try to twist him so that he would drop out."

A bill, scheduled for consideration Monday by the Legisla ture, would delay the primary until June 26.

The delay also gives a three-member vacancy committee until May 9 to pick a replacement if DiFrancesco drops out.

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