This article will analyze what many analysts are now considering to be the closest House race in New Jersey this cycle: New Jersey’s 7th Congressional District. First I will take a deep look at the history of NJ-07, as well as the history of both major party candidates for the seat in 2020. After I shed some light on the history of the seat, I will analyze the most recent Presidential and Congressional results in the seat relative to other competitive North Jersey seats.
In addition to analyzing the long-term electoral trends in the district, I’ll take a look at major campaign issues, fundraising, and policy that will play a major role in the campaign for this seat in 2020. I will conclude by making my best prediction for what to expect in this seat in November.
The History of New Jersey-7
New Jersey’s 7th District is one of the most affluent districts in the state, and the region it currently covers (all of Hunterdon County as well as portions of Essex, Somerset, Union, Morris, and Warren counties) has seen one of the most interesting suburban political transformations in the United States. While the suburban shift towards the Democrats has been observable in nearly every state since 2018, nowhere on the east coast has it been more prevalent than it has been in New Jersey, particularly in North Jersey.
The “great shift”, as I call it, had its roots in the results of the 2016 Presidential Election, which saw North Jersey trend Democratic. This was contrary to its southern counterpart where Congressional Districts 2 and 3, which had voted for President Obama in 2012, flipped to Donald Trump in 2016. Below you will see a table that will note the overall swing of the Presidential results in Districts 7, 5, and 11 (the three competitive House seats in North Jersey) between 2012 and 2016.
These data show the beginning of the “Great Shift” that would sweep New Jersey in the 2018 Midterms. Every competitive district in North Jersey swung towards the Democrats, including NJ-07, which had the greatest swing of all its neighboring districts. So how did NJ-07 go from the most Republican seat in North Jersey to the most Democratic swing seat? One of the most important factors is certainly the consistently-expanding Democratic base in Somerset county. Below you will find a map of the last four Presidential races in Somerset County, which should help to display its evolution over the past decade from “Republican traditionalism” to “Democratic foothold”.
These results truly shed light on the unique nature of the suburban voters of Somerset County. Voters here are largely swayed by the events that impact their lives, as well as the perception of which candidate better fits their values. In 2004, President Bush carried Somerset County while losing the state of New Jersey by only 6.6%, the smallest Presidential margin in the state since Bill Clinton’s 2.3% win here in 1992 against President Bush Sr. This 6.6% Kerry win in 2004 was a large drop from Al Gore’s convincing 15.8% victory margin in 2000, but the competitive nature of the state cannot be blamed on John Kerry.
Voters in Somerset, and much of the state as a whole, voted to re-elect President Bush because they felt he was a strong leader who had united the nation after the tragic 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York City, which had impacted New York and New Jersey more than any other states of the country. Even though the traditionally Democratic “spine” of the state still carried John Kerry over the line, the 9.2% swing toward the Republicans (largely from suburban New Jersey) showed just how important the perception of being a strong leader, especially one who addresses local concerns, can be in winning votes in this region.
In 2008, Barack Obama’s sensational campaign inspired millions of Americans throughout the nation to go to the polls in November to elect the first African American to the White House over John McCain. As you all know, Obama won resoundingly. Besides his historic, and in many cases unprecedented, wins in the key swing states, Obama also expanded Democratic margins in New Jersey. Particularly impressive was his victory in Somerset County, which had not voted for the Democratic ticket for President since Lyndon B. Johnson’s landslide re-election over Conservative Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater in 1964.
In 2008, many suburban voters here cast their ballots for Senator Obama over his Arizona colleague because of the economy, which was in shambles due to the 2008 Recession. By 2008, 9/11 was no longer a major issue, national defense seemed secure, and “culture-war” issues were placed on the back-burner to focus on repairing the economy. Most affluent suburbanites still favored McCain, but many middle-class Somerset residents, particularly minorities, were inspired by Obama’s generational message of hope; voters also associated McCain with a “Bush third term” and the questionable Bush-endorsed stimulus package.
Another thing to note was that McCain’s running mate, Sarah Palin, was considered far too conservative for the tastes of many voters here. It’s possible that her selection damaged the general perception of McCain as the moderate western “maverick” who was never afraid to stand up to his Republican colleagues.
In 2012, President Obama won the county again. Despite his victory, his margin in the county was slightly smaller against Romney in 2012 than it was against McCain in 2008. This matches NJ-07 as a whole, where Romney over-performed McCain. (The 7th was actually Romney’s second best performance in the whole state Congressional District-wise, only surpassed by Chris Smith’s Ocean County District 4, a Republican bastion in a sea of blue.) Romney fit the affluent suburban image perfectly, and his strong moderate Conservatism helped warm a few more voters up to the Republican party than McCain’s similar disposition had in 2008. Nonetheless, the county still stuck with President Obama, who had managed to raise his approvals enough from his unpopularity, directly following the Republican wave in the 2010 midterm elections, to be re-elected.
The 2016 result was by far the best foreshadowing of the 2018 Congressional wave that would go on to sweep New Jersey’s House Delegation. Hillary Clinton carried Somerset County by an astounding margin of 12.9%, nearly 7.3-points better than President Obama’s 5.6% margin in the county in his 2012 re-election. This large swing in the county alone answers our question and perfectly explains why NJ-07 went from being the most Republican swing district in North Jersey to the most Democratic swing district in the northern half of the state. When we look at the campaign Trump ran though, the large drop in Republican support really isn’t that jaw-dropping. Many white affluent Republican voters here categorized themselves as traditional moderate Republicans, like former Congressman Leonard Lance who represented the seat from 2009-2019. These voters were turned off by Trump’s raucous campaign style, which broke new barriers of what was considered “politically correct” in a Presidential campaign. In 2020 you can expect Somerset to be won by presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden by a similar margin.
History of the District
Now that we’ve touched on some of the Presidential history in the region, let’s turn to the history of the Congressional district itself over the last fifty years. Since Congressional districts are re-drawn every ten years in relation with the census results, they are often re-numbered, which is why we will be discussing the region in which the modern day “NJ-07” is located, rather than the 7th District itself. We will start in 1972 and will cover every decade of the district’s history to the present day.
1972-1980: A split between NJ-13 and NJ-5
In the 1972-1982 Congressional map, the territory of the modern day 7th District was largely split between two Republican seats: New Jersey’s 13th to the west (which included Hunterdon County) and New Jersey’s 5th to the east (which included Somerset County). In 1972, both districts were represented by Republicans who had won convincingly that year (Richard Nixon’s strong performance in the state in his landslide re-election certainly helped them) they were Joseph J. Maraziti (R-NJ13) and Pete Frelinghuysen II (R-NJ05). Maraziti had been a NJ State Legislator for nearly a decade prior to his 1972 victory. He had the added advantage of running in a seat that was drawn for him (it included a tiny jut into northeast Morris County, which was his home, in its northern half). He defeated Helen Meyner, a Democrat who would go on to unseat him two years later, by a stable margin in 1972. In the neighboring 5th was Pete Frelinghuysen II, a member of one of New Jersey’s most famous political families who had represented the 5th in various iterations since 1953. Frelinghuysen’s seat was significantly less competitive than that of his neighbor, Maraziti, and he held it by 24% in 1972.
In 1972, President Nixon’s popularity seemed to be a blessing for New Jersey Republicans, especially Maraziti, but by 1974, President Nixon had resigned over the Watergate Scandal, leaving Democrats poised to make large gains in the 1974 midterms in opposition to the Republicans, who were now marred by allegations corruption. Maraziti would not back down though, and he continued to defend President Nixon in the House until Nixon’s resignation. His ardent support for the Former President did not end well for his political career. By November, voters had soured on him and he lost a re-match to Helen Meyner in a seat that was drawn to be his “baby” for as long as he wanted it. Meyner won by nearly 15% and took every county in the district. Frelinghuysen retired in 1974, allowing Millicent Fenwick, the future 1982 Republican Senate nominee against Frank Lautenberg, to begin her career. Despite large gains elsewhere in New Jersey in 1974, the old 5th was red enough to hold out, but Fenwick’s 10% margin of victory was surprisingly narrow for the district, showing just how powerful the 1974 wave really was for the Democrats. The 1974 and 2018 midterms had surprisingly similar results when looking at New Jersey. Both had strong Democratic enthusiasm in response to relatively unpopular Presidents, as well as Republican policies, and Democrats flipped four house seats from Republicans in both elections. (2 in the North and 2 in the South in 1974 and 2018). Little changed between 1974 and 1982, other than the Congresswoman Meyner’s 3% loss to Republican James Courter in 1978.
1982 – A Brief Map
In 1982, the old 13th District was slightly re-drawn and re-numbered as the 5th district. The new lines stretched in a narrow band around the edge of the northern-half of the state, all the way from Hunterdon County to Bergen County. This new seat was represented by Republican Marge Roukema, who’d been serving in the House since 1980.
The territory of the old 5th District, meanwhile, was redrawn into a more expansive district that was re-named District 12. It included Somerset and Morris counties, as well as portions of Sussex and Warren counties. With Millicent Fenwick running for the open Senate seat that year against Frank Lautenberg, incumbent Congressman Jim Courter opted to run in the new 12th district, rather than the newly drawn 5th district. (Even though the new 5th technically included more of his original territory).
The southern portions of the modern-day 7th were included in an old district, also numbered NJ-07, that included the western parts of Union and Middlesex counties. (These were the Republican portions of those counties.) The district elected Matt Rinaldo, a Republican who had represented the old 12th from 1975-1981, to represent it in Congress.
1984-1990 – A mid-decade map
By 1984, New Jersey had completed mid-decade redistricting. The old 5th district, which wrapped around the northern-half of the state like a band, had been re-drawn to make it more compact. The new fifth was drawn only to include the northern-most portions of the state: Sussex, Passaic, and Bergen counties. This meant it was no longer in the same region as the modern day 7th.
Jim Courter’s 12th district was expanded into Hunterdon and Warren counties to take on some of his old territory that had been removed from the new 5th district by the mid-decade redistricting. Rinaldo’s 7th district was also changed significantly. It was moved further north, into Somerset and Union counties, and was made more compact. All three incumbents held the newly drawn seats.
The mid-decade lines remained the same until the next redistricting cycle. The only change was in 1990, when Jim Courter retired after his landslide loss in the 1989 Gubernatorial Election against Jim Florio by a 61-37% margin. His seat was held for the Republicans easily by State Senator Dick Zimmer.
1992-2000 – The Current Design begins to take shape
In 1992 redistricting, the 12th district was redrawn to remove much of Warren and Somerset Counties. The new seat was now extended further South into Mercer, Monmouth, and South Middlesex counties. Incumbent Republican Dick Zimmer was re-elected easily.
The 7th district was only altered slightly, and its overall boundaries remained the same. Congressman Rinaldo retired in 1992, and State Assemblyman Bob Franks won the seat by 10%. Republicans still maintained their dominance in this region of North Jersey.
In 1996, New Jersey-12 Congressman Dick Zimmer ran for U.S. Senate and Republican Mike Pappas held the seat for the Republicans, albeit by a narrower margin. Pappas, who was a relative outsider, had defeated establishment candidates State Senator John Bennett and State Assemblyman Leonard Lance in the primary by a 38-34-26% margin. Lance went on to represent the modern NJ-07 from 2009-2019 after the retirement of Congressman Mike Ferguson.
Congressman Pappas initially appeared to be on track for a long and prosperous career in Washington, but the political tides quickly changed following a career-ending gaffe. During the Clinton impeachment, national Republicans encouraged Pappas to take the floor to sing a new farcical poem “Twinkle twinkle Kenneth Starr”. This ploy backfired and quickly destroyed the credibility of Congressman Pappas. He struggled to win re-election in 1998 and ended up narrowly losing to Democrat Rush Holt by 2.8% in November.
Holt couldn’t take his new seat for granted though, and he quickly became one of the most vulnerable Congressional Democrats of the 2000 cycle. That year, Holt faced off against Former Congressman Dick Zimmer. Holt won by a 0.22% margin – roughly 48.7-48.5%. This election was the closest House race in New Jersey since the 1956 race in NJ-13 where incumbent Democratic Congressman Alfred Sieminski defeated Republican Norman Roth by just 57 votes – 0.05%; the 2000 race here remains the closest New Jersey House race to date. This was the critical test for Congressman Holt, and he passed. He never faced a truly competitive race again before his 2014 retirement (though 2010 was somewhat competitive).
2000 also brought change in New Jersey’s old 7th District, where incumbent Republican Bob Franks retired to run for the U.S. Senate. Franks came very close to winning the seat, but narrowly lost to Jon Corzine (who had run a brilliant campaign) by a 50.1-47.1% margin. The 7th was a fairly Republican seat, so naturally a vacancy opened up a large Republican primary field. Mike Ferguson, who was a pro-school choice advocate, defeated Mr. Tom Kean Jr, State Assemblyman Joel Weingarten, and (interestingly enough) Mr. Pat Morrisey (who later went on to be West Virginia’s Attorney General, and the 2018 Republican Senate nominee against incumbent Democrat Joe Manchin.) Ferguson won by a 40.6-27.8-23-8.6% margin. (Ferguson, Kean, Weingarten, Morrisey).
2002-2010 – The roots of the modern 7th come to be
In 2002, the seat began to take on more of its modern-day territory. It was slightly re-drawn from the 1992 map, and now included most of Hunterdon and Somerset Counties, as well as portions of Union and Middlesex Counties. (The previous district had only included eastern Somerset, portions of Union and Middlesex, and southern Essex.) In a way, the new district was drawn to be more favorable to Republicans (ironic considering the competitive races here in 2006 and 2008).
In 2006, Congressman Ferguson was the victim of a shot over the bow. He faced an incredibly well-run challenge from Democratic State Assemblywoman Linda Stender. Polls showed Ferguson with a relatively consistent lead throughout the campaign, and most Republicans believed that the district was drawn favorably-enough to withstand the tumultuous Blue Wave that swept the nation in 2006. In the end, Ferguson did win re-election, but by a very small margin (49.4-48%). In fact, had independent “Withdraw Troops Now” candidate Tom Abrams not been in the race, his 1.6% of the vote may very well have allowed Stender to win the seat. This result scared Ferguson into early retirement in 2008, opening up the seat for former Congressional candidate and State Legislator Leonard Lance.
In 2008, State Senator Leonard Lance managed to secure the Republican nomination fairly easily. Stender ran for the seat again, and this time polls showed her in the lead. 2008, like 2006 before it, was also a strong Blue Wave. This, combined with the fact that it was an open seat, led many punditry organizations (including Sabato’s Crystal Ball) to predict a Stender victory. In the end, however, Lance won by a 50.2-42.2% margin. Without third-party votes the margin may have been smaller, but because Lance received over 50% of the vote his victory was basically assured. Lance did not face another truly close race until his loss to Democrat Tom Malinowski in the 2018 midterms.
2012-2020 – The current NJ-07
Now we’ve arrived at NJ-07 in its current iteration (described at the beginning of this article). Congressman Lance did not face a remotely competitive race until 2016, when he defeated progressive Democrat Peter Jacob by a 54.1-43.1% margin. In the 2018 blue wave, former Assistant Secretary for Human Rights in the Obama State Department Tom Malinowski defeated Congressman Lance in his re-election bid. Malinowski, like his fellow 2018 New Jersey freshmen, appealed to change. Malinowski connected to disaffected suburban voters in the Trump-era by running down the middle on local issues associated with his “regional brand”. Some of the most prominent of these issues included opposition to Trump, contempt for the unpopular revocation of the SALT deduction, procuring funds for the Gateway Tunnel, and promoting Gun Control to keep schools safe. Lance was the victim of tidal change, coupled with a bad environment for Republicans, and lost 51.7-46.7%.
A look at the history of the two candidates: (D) Malinowski and (R) Kean Jr.
(D) Tom Malinowski – incumbent U.S. Representative NJ-07
Tom Malinowski was born as Tomasz Malinowski in Poland. He fled the country with his mother at the age of six and established a life for himself in the United States. His foreign experience left a mark on him, and led him to pursue a career in foreign policy. After college at Berkeley and St. Anthony’s College Oxford, Malinowski wrote speeches for Secretaries of State Warren Christopher and Madeleine Albright. After his service on the National Security Council, he joined Human Rights Watch hHis opposition to torture became a core part of his ideological philosophy on foreign policy issues in the Obama Administration.)
In 2013, Malinowski was appointed Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. He was confirmed by the Senate later that year, and swore into office in January of 2014. When Obama left office, he was out of the job. Malinowski took the next step and ran for Congress. He incrementally built his name recognition until his successful victory over Congressman Lance in the 2018 midterms.
Malinowski is considered a narrow favorite by most pundits, and he is a fairly strong incumbent from a financial standpoint, but a race against someone as popular as Kean will be tough, even in a Clinton district. If Malinowski does somehow lose, his Congressional career will likely be over after a brief tenure in Washington.
(R) Tom Kean Jr. – incumbent NJ State Senate Minority Leader and State Senator from District 21
Tom Kean Jr. was born in Livingston in 1958 and grew up on the Kean family estate. He is the son of popular former Governor, and head of the 9/11 Commission, Tom Kean Sr. Kean was a life-long Republican from a well-respected political family, and attended Dartmouth and Tufts for his College education.
In 2000 (as mentioned earlier) Kean ran for the old 7th District, and lost the primary. This was his first of three Congressional Campaigns. In 2001, he was appointed to the State Assembly, and by 2003 he was serving in the State Senate (where he still serves to this day).
Kean challenged interim Democratic Senator Bob Menendez in 2006, but struggled to keep up in the 2006 midterm environment that made President Bush, and by extension the Republican party, somewhat toxic in the state that year. He tried to attack Menendez for being “sleazy”, but it backfired when Menendez advertising accused him of using connections with criminals for political purposes. Kean was also criticized by Democrats for missing a photo-op appearance with Vice President Dick Cheney at a fundraiser. Kean said he was delayed by traffic, while Democrats admonished him for supposedly avoiding “Team Bush” for political purposes. Menendez held the seat, and won his first full term, by a 53.3-44.4% margin.
Following his Congressional losses, Kean returned to work in the State Senate, where he is now one of its most important members. He holds large influence over the Republican caucus as their leader and has just now re-entered the Congressional arena in 2020. This is arguably his best chance to win a Congressional seat that he’s had in his entire career, and should he fail to win the race it will likely be his last bid for Congress in the state.
Strengths and Weaknesses. Campaign Issues and Policies
Looking at the NJ-07 race, we can expect many of the same issues that drove the 2018 campaign to re-appear. Malinowski ran as a relative moderate in the “suburban mold” in 2018, but now Kean may use this to connect Malinowski to Pelosi for his largely partisan voting record. However, it’s important to remember that this strategy likely would not work for a handful of different reasons:
- The NRCC backed pro-Leonard Lance campaign advertisements throughout the 2018 campaign that associated Tom Malinowski with Democratic Leader, and now House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi. Despite all the negative attacks, Malinowski managed to unseat Lance by tying him to Trump’s Republican Party and replacing Lance’s personal brand with his own.
- If Kean tries to tie Malinowski to Speaker Pelosi, Malinowski will likely neutralize the attack by firing back with criticism of Kean for being in the same political party as President Trump. While Kean is a well-respected moderate that isn’t as keen on Trump as some Democrats may think, the comparisons could still be embarrassing.
- The seat is a Romney-Clinton district, and Joe Biden will likely expand Democratic margins in the seat as he runs up margins among suburban women and disaffected Trump 2016 Republicans that backed Democratic candidates in 2018. Attacking Pelosi and Biden simply wouldn’t be as effective here as it would be in a more Republican district held by a Democrat, like NJ-03 (D) – Andy Kim.
Besides various potential attacks that will be used over the course of the campaign, both candidates have some similar qualities that will aid them in the general election campaign. The qualities they both have in common are listed below:
- Neither candidate has a competitive primary challenger. This allows both candidates to turn their attention and resources to the general election campaign, which helps make the seat even more competitive.
- Both candidates have relatively strong fundraising organizations, and have well-run campaigns that know how to adequately appropriate the accumulated money to ensure victory.
- Each candidate has national political connections that can help them raise money during the general election.
- Both Malinowski and Kean have established regional brands that slightly differ from each other, but both have the same uniform goal of appealing to affluent suburban voters who desire a candidate in their own image.
- Both candidates nullify some of their main differences by taking similar stances on important issues like opposition to the repeal of the SALT tax deduction, which every New Jersey House Republican except Tom MacArthur voted against before the 2018 Blue Wave.
However, opportunity is not distributed equally, and Malinowski and Kean both have unique qualities that give them “a leg up” over the other going into the General Election campaign. Below I’ll go over the top-three unique advantages each candidate has over the other going into November.
- Obviously incumbency advantage is at the top of this list. House cycles in Presidential years usually do not see as much turnover as House elections in midterm years. (Seats represented by someone of the same party that the district leans are even less likely to flip) That simple fact helps strengthen Malinowski’s position as the incumbent. Even though he is a freshman Congressman, being an incumbent gives him access to the DCCC-fundraising organization and ensures that he can match the Kean-lineage in name recognition in the 7th District.
- The fact that the seat is a Clinton district, and that it will likely vote for Joe Biden by an even larger margin, helps Tom Malinowski this year. Biden will help pull votes out for Democrats across the state, and in this district that only helps Malinowski in his competitive race against Tom Kean Jr.
- Malinowski has held countless town-halls since his initial election, and has been one of the most “constituent-engaged” members of the New Jersey delegation since he swore into office. Malinowski has also adapted to campaigning and interacting with constituents during the Corona Virus with his now digital “Congress in your kitchen” streams. The fact that Malinowski is the incumbent, and an active incumbent at that, allows him to successfully sway independent voters to his side using a forum like a digital town-hall.
- One of the biggest things going for Kean in 2020 is his well-respected last name. The Kean family is one of the most venerated political dynasties in New Jersey politics, and has been a part of it for almost as long as the Frelinghuysen family has. While it may be increasingly untenable to stress your moderate lineage in a district trending towards the Democrats in the age of Trump, it will certainly provide added credibility to Kean’s candidacy in November, and could sway some Malinowski 2018 voters back into the Republican fold. Expect some Biden/Kean voters, even if there aren’t that many.
- Another major addition to Kean’s strong campaign is his long experience in New Jersey politics, far longer than Congressman Malinowski’s. He’s been in the State Legislature since 2001, and is now the leader of the State Senate Republicans. He has experience, and voters know that. The 7th District knows Kean is experienced enough to be in the House, and most voters here respect him enough to keep re-electing him to State Senate District 21 (see Figure 1), but will the independent voters vote to re-elect Malinowski out of fear that Kean will track to the right on the federal level? That’s hard to tell, but Kean’s experience advantage makes him more credible and qualified than any other non-incumbent Republican house candidate in New Jersey this cycle.
- Kean can try and play the moderate card, and he has the political record to back it up. Kean, like Former Congressman Lance, is a genuine moderate within the Republican party. He inherited his father’s good nature, friendly disposition, and relative popularity. In a district that is fairly moderate, he can try and boost his support by claiming that Malinowski is a “deceptive moderate” who votes further to the left than he campaigns (Malinowski could also reverse this tactic as discussed earlier, so it’s a fairly risky move if Kean decides to use it.)
Campaign Issues and Policies
In 2018, the main issues in the race were opposition to the removal of the SALT Tax Deduction, the push for gun control and school safety, the opposition to President Trump’s rhetoric and immigration policies, protecting New Jersey’s pristine public education system, and procuring funds for the proposed Gateway Tunnel. Malinowski, as we discussed earlier, formed a moderate brand image around these issues, and managed to convince enough voters in the district to throw Congressman Lance out of office.
In 2020, many of these issues will still be critical parts of the campaign (with some exceptions and new additions). Taxes are still a major issue, and Kean could attack Malinowski for his failure to address the nation’s tax policies and their negative impact on the middle class in New Jersey (this isn’t exactly fair considering the national Republicans and Democrats have ignored New Jersey’s tax plight in this Congress and the previous one). The Universal Background Check Bill, which Malinowski and the House Democrats supported, passed, but was held up by Mitch McConnell in the Senate. Malinowski could attack Republicans, and by extension Kean, for shutting down the bill, which could force Kean into a corner where he has to take a liberal stance on the gun issue.
The Gateway Tunnel, another potential big-spending project, probably won’t happen anytime soon (don’t expect this to be an issue of heated debate unless more developments occur in the campaign season – though it’s important to note that Kean and Malinowski disagree on portions of the plan). If COVID-19 and national riots are still going on by the fall, they could become major campaign issues.
Malinowski could connect himself with Governor Murphy, who’s approval sits at 77% following a very popular response. Malinowski could also tie Kean to Trump, who’s response is unpopular with some in New Jersey. Kean, however, could argue that he, as a State Senator, has nothing to do with Trump’s response, and that he and the legislature helped to aid Murphy in a bi-partisan fashion.
The riots could also remain a hot-topic. While nearly everyone agrees that the murder of George Floyd was a tragic abuse of power by a malicious police officer, most would also say it doesn’t represent the disposition of every police officer. The Kean/Malinowski campaign could also disagree over the degree to which the government should be involved in a response to violence and looting occurring within the peaceful protests. If Coronavirus allows for a public debate, as there was in 2018, you can expect to see many of these local issues become important policy topics up for discussion.
Despite being a strong candidate, Kean has struggled to match Malinowski. Granted, Malinowski is an incumbent and Coronavirus has hampered fundraising for many Republican challengers, but it could be a bad sign for him if he is unable to catch up. Malinowski currently leads Kean in cash receipts $3.2 million to $1.7 million. Malinowski out-raised Lance, who was an incumbent, $6.3 million to $2.7 million in 2018. Kean still has time to catch up, and it’s imperative that he does if he wants to stay in contention.
Currently, I agree with the major pundits on this race. It is Lean Democratic. Kean is a strong candidate, yes, but the long-term trends in this district combined with the fact that he’s running against a fairly strong Democratic incumbent in a Presidential year make it extremely challenging for him to win.
A Kean win is not impossible, but most pundits agree that it is unlikely at this point. That said, the divisive primary in NJ-03 between Freeholder Kate Gibbs and Businessman David Richter is allowing Congressman Andy Kim (D) to divert his resources to the General Election, which helps to solidify his re-election. Ironically, Kim is looking to be safer in Trump+6 New Jersey-3 than Malinowski is in Clinton+1 New Jersey-7, though both races are rated as Lean Democratic.
Regardless of what may change over the course of the campaign, it’s safe to say that this will be an incredibly interesting race with its fair share of interesting campaigning. Some expect it to be the most competitive, and therefore the closest, House race in New Jersey this election.