gopGOP candidates Rob Lombardi and Joe Mizzi, center, react to poll results at Anna Little’s campaign headquarters on Bridge Avenue Tuesday night. (Click to enlarge)

Joe Mizzi was excited Tuesday night, thinking this might be the one.

As treasurer of the local GOP for the past four years, and one of its two candidates for Red Bank council, he said he felt he and running mate Rob Lombardi had a good shot at displacing one or both Democratic incumbents on the ballot, Kathy Horgan and Sharon Lee.

It boded well that voter turnout appeared to have been “suprisingly strong,” he told redbankgreen shortly after polls closed, and he’d heard positive feedback from those who’d cast ballots.

Mizzi, a 34-year-old professor of economics, said he’d personally knocked on “at least a thousand” doors during the campaign, and had enlisted his entire family in phonebanking. He’d gotten state Senator Jennifer Beck, another former council member, to record a robocall endorsement.

But Mizzi also appeared to be banking on a less confrontational approach to campaigning than has become the norm. He had kind words about Mayor Pasquale Menna, speculating that the Republicans’ failure to put up a challenger for that job might be seen as “a compliment” to Menna and how effective he’d been over the past four years. Rather than running to tear down the Menna administration, Mizzi said he was hoping to “add a voice” to the council. He said he “absolutely” believed he could work productively with the Menna-led Dems.

But then the poll runners came in, led by Grace Cangemi, the last Republican to serve on the governing body. The numbers weren’t good, she said, but neither were they expected to be, coming from the eighth district, on the West Side, which historically provides the Democrats their most reliable electoral ballast.

After a few more district results came in, Mizzi did a quick scan of the tally sheet that kept slipping off the wall and mused that if the numbers were strong enough in two of three remaining districts, he and Lombardi might have an upset on their hands.

But the mood changed quickly. Jack Minton, the party chairman, lit up a cigarette in the cramped storefront, filling the room with smoke and angering several of those gathered there, one of whom muttered she was going to kill him for it. Then Lombardi showed up with some results, and the sense of deflation was palpable.

Unofficial results, before the inclusion of absentees:

Vote Count Percent
REP – Joseph MIZZI 1,240 23.66%
REP – Robert J. LOMBARDI 1,224 23.36%
DEM – Kathleen A. HORGAN 1,404 26.79%
DEM – Sharon LEE 1,371 26.16%
Write-In 1 0.02%
Total 5,240 100.00%

“I’ll go first,” Mizzi said, as he stepped up to address about two dozen followers.

Saying that the Republicans “gave it a helluva fight,” he quickly added: “My campaign for next year starts tomorrow, and I’m not going anywhere.”

Lombardi then told the gathering that he was “really baffled” by the results, feeling he had campaigned as well as he had last year, when his margin of defeat was narrower.  But the 30-year-old architect said he probably wouldn’t try a third time, and instead would “definitely help out” Mizzi in his next run.