When he was first appointed to the Freeholder Board in Sussex County, Phil Crabb was a self-proclaimed "moderate" Republican, following the way of Glen Vetrano and Sue Zellman. And while it was his friendship with Hal Wirths that got him the job, Crabb was never part of the Wally Wirths' conservative crowd -- Crabb was a Bob Littell guy.
Crabb's appointment coincided with a new political paradigm in Sussex County. In 2007, longtime District 24 Senator Bob Littell decided not to run for re-election. While conservative on issues like guns and abortion, Littell was an old-school moderate Republican. He found consensus with the Democrats and avoided partisan rhetoric.
In 2007, the Littell wing of the Sussex County GOP was faced with a dilemma and a choice. The dilemma was popular District 24 Assemblyman Guy Gregg, a well-known conservative from Morris County, who wanted to become Sussex County's Senator. To face him, the Littell forces had to choose between two well-qualified Freeholders: moderate Glen Vetrano or conservative Steve Oroho.
We all know who got the nod and so began the rebranding of the Sussex County GOP into an organization with an explicitly "conservative" message. The REAL CONSERVATIVE TEAM of Steve Oroho, Alison Littell McHose, Gary Chiusano, Hal Wirths, and Jeff Parrott carried the day on June 5, 2007. A year later and Senator Oroho, Assemblywoman McHose, and Assemblyman Chiusano were recognized statewide as conservative leaders in the legislature. Phyllis Schlafly called Bob Littell's daughter "New Jersey's Sarah Palin". Bob Littell's successors had won by adopting the message of Wally Wirths.
There were some who were uncomfortable with this rebranding, Phil Crabb among them. They faulted the political consultant team of Ed Traz and Bill Winkler who were responsible for the 2007 REAL CONSERVATIVE TEAM campaign message and accused them of over-stressing the "conservative" brand. They criticized the connection to conservative firebrand Steve Lonegan and in return were sniped at on Facebook by Lonegan satellite Rick Shaftan.
But as election victory after election victory piled up, the moderates slowly came round. The 2012 victory of conservative Christian candidate Dennis Mudrick, recruited by moderate Glen Vetrano, was in many ways a public act of surrender by the moderates. A recognition that they could no longer elect one of their own.
In last year's Republican primary the HOMETOWN CONSERVATIVE TEAM romped to victory and the final act of Sussex County's GOP "moderates" was to dutifully join the effort to elect conservative Steve Lonegan to the United States Senate. After Lonegan was embraced by Governor Chris Christie, he was no longer the "radical" he had been on the lips of Sussex County moderates. They rushed to embrace him and enthusiastically used their new conservative connections to scrub away their worn out moderate skins.
Which brings us to Freeholder Phil Crabb, the last of the moderates. He sent out a very well done direct mail piece this week. In it, he described his tenure on the Freeholder Board as "conservative", his successes on the Freeholder Board as "conservative", his leadership as "conservative", and he himself as a "conservative".
Somewhere, Traz and Winkler are smiling.