PARAMUS, N.J. (AP) — Former “Saturday Night Live” comedian and Donald Trump backer Joe Piscopo said Wednesday that he will not launch an independent campaign to succeed Republican New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
Piscopo announced the decision during his radio show, telling a live audience at an event in Paramus that he doesn’t want to be a divider.
He then brought Republican Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, who is running to succeed the term-limited Christie, on stage to endorse her ahead of next month’s GOP primary.
“This woman knows exactly what the heartbeat of this state is,” Piscopo said. He added that he was “saddened and disappointed” to not be running but that after talking to Guadagno one-on-one at his home recently, he thought she was the best candidate. He said he will be a “cheerleader” for her candidacy and will campaign for her around the state.
“Joe’s gonna make sure that we talk about what is good about this state,” Guadagno said.
Piscopo’s decision not to run comes after a months-long public guessing game. Earlier this year, he said he was seriously considering running as a Republican, but announced in March he wouldn’t run on the GOP ticket and instead was thoughtfully considering an independent bid. A prime reason for waiting to get in the race was that he would be required to give up his morning radio talk show, he said.
On Wednesday, Piscopo said he just signed a new contract with the station and added he didn’t leverage a possible campaign for more money.
“I’m too honest for that,” he said.
In backing Guadagno, Piscopo is throwing his support to Christie’s top lieutenant for the last nearly eight years. If she wins the June 6 primary, she will face a Democratic nominee favored by experts to win in the fall, in part because of Christie’s low approval ratings and Democratic voter registration advantages in New Jersey.
Piscopo gained fame as a member of the “SNL” cast in the early 1980s, impersonating fellow New Jersey native Frank Sinatra. He also appeared in films, and currently hosts a political talk radio show in New York and serves as a spokesman for the Boys and Girls Club.
Not since the 19th century has New Jersey elected anyone other than a top-party candidate. Most recently, former environmental official Chris Daggett finished with about 6 percent of the vote in 2009.
Piscopo is passing on one of only two statewide contests in the nation along with Virginia, and it’s a race that is well underway with Democrats and Republicans poised to elect their candidates in the June 6 primary.
Christie predicted defeat for Piscopo after he announced in March that he wouldn’t run as a Republican amid speculation he would get into the GOP primary.
“The fact is independents don’t win in this state. They simply don’t,” Christie said at the time. “It seems to me that this is just an attempt by Mr. Piscopo to increase the ratings on his radio show. …I hope it does, for his sake.”
Independents lack party structure that can help get the vote out and raise money, according to Peter Woolley, a politics professor at Fairleigh Dickinson University. He added that it’s “well-nigh impossible” for an independent to win the state.
Guadagno faces four challengers in the Republican primary, including Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli, Nutley commissioner Steve Rogers, businessman Joseph “Rudy” Rullo, and engineer Hirsh Singh.
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