TRENTON — A Republican state senator from South Jersey who announced she was switching parties was met with a mixture of scorn and resignation.

Dawn Addiego was elected in the state's 8th legislative district as a Republican eight years ago, but shocked Trenton with the announcement Monday that she was joining the Democrat caucus.

While the move certainly has an air of self-preservation as her district has been leaning more Democrat, it also reflects the continued weakening of the Republican Party in New Jersey.

It is a party, particularly in the Senate, that is devoid of strong leadership. Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean Jr. is a ghost. He is rarely seen, less frequently heard, and has failed to energize his Senate caucus into anything other than token opposition in the upper house.

The Senate is ruled with the ironworker's fist of Steve Sweeney, who delights in punishing all who oppose him. Kean, who is derisively referred to as "Junior" by insiders, possesses neither the political skill nor the strength to stand toe-to-toe with Sweeney. He, and by default his caucus, have become irrelevant in the upper house.

One insider told me Kean was blindsided by the Addiego defection, "and that's the problem. Junior has lost touch with his members. He should have seen this coming, though he would have been powerless to stop it."

If true, Kean was clueless while one of his caucus members secretly orchestrated her party switch with Kean's chief political rival.

After being decimated in last November's Congressional elections and consistently losing local elections, the Republican Party is a shell of what it once was in New Jersey. It seems like ancient history that a tide of anti-tax anger swept Republicans into office in record numbers in 1991.

Twenty-eight years ago, the GOP boasted a veto-proof majority in both the Senate and Assembly, and captured 16 of 21 county executive seats in a red wave that left the Democratic Party in tatters. But Republicans frittered away their majorities in just a handful of election cycles. By 2002, they had lost control of the Senate, and have been losing ever since. With Addiego joining, Democrats will now hold a 27-13 majority in the Senate to go with their 54-26 majority in the Assembly.

"My core values that originally drew me to the Republican Party have not changed, but the party which once echoed the vision of Ronald Reagan no longer exists," Addiego posted on her Facebook page Monday.

GOP loyalists publicly called Addiego a traitor, but privately told me the move made sense, and lamented the fact that the party has failed to produce both strong leadership and a new generation of candidates that can actually win.

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