The state was a major battleground for House races in 2018 — and is poised to be one again in 2020.
New Jersey was a major battleground for House races in 2018, and this cycle, it looks like several of its seats will be quite contentious yet again.
Two years ago, Democrats flipped four Republican-held seats in the state, all of which are poised to be competitive this fall, according to the Cook Political Report. Such wins were a sign of how New Jersey, as a whole, has shifted to the left in recent years — though Republicans are now fighting to reassert their presence in its congressional delegation.
Democrats hold 10 of the state’s 12 House districts, as well as both Senate seats. This fall, they’re hoping to hang on to the gains they’ve made, while also flipping New Jersey’s Second District, which is represented by Democrat-turned-Republican Jeff Van Drew.
While many of these races are set to be close, experts say Democrats have a strong chance of maintaining their existing dominance given the party’s strength in the suburbs. “The Democrats may very well be overextended, but it’s unclear whether the GOP can claw back any territory,” says Kyle Kondik, managing editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia.
This week’s primaries will set the stage for a slew of fall face-offs: There’s a tight race among Democrats vying to take on Van Drew in the Second district as well as several Republicans eager to unseat Reps. Andy Kim in the Third and Tom Malinowski in the Seventh. Rep. Mikie Sherrill’s seat in the 11th District is also expected to be a close contest in November, though her likely Republican challenger, tax attorney Rosemary Becchi, isn’t set to face a competitive primary this Tuesday.
Multiple Democratic incumbents — including Reps. Josh Gottheimer and Albio Sires — are also fending off primary challengers, though both are expected to keep their seats.
Here are some of the key New Jersey races to keep an eye on — and the stakes involved in each. We’ll have live results throughout the evening, powered by our partners at Decision Desk. Because of mail-in voting this year, close races may not be called for a few days.
New Jersey’s Second District: A professor, a Kennedy, and a former Booker staffer compete for Jeff Van Drew’s seat
The Democratic primary for this Atlantic City-based seat is among the most closely watched this week, both because the district could be a key pickup and because of how interesting Van Drew’s trajectory has been. Van Drew, a longtime state senator, first won the seat for the Democrats in 2018, when he beat GOP candidate Seth Grossman by 7 points. This year, however, he’s running as a Republican.
Van Drew announced that he’d switch parties last December after deciding to vote against the impeachment of President Donald Trump, a decision seemingly driven by electoral necessity. At the time, Van Drew’s support from regional Democrats was waning. By securing Trump’s support, he put himself on track for a strong performance in the Republican primary, where he’s expected to beat Bob Patterson, a former Trump administration staffer. The president’s backing could well help Van Drew in the general election, too; the district voted for Trump by about 5 points in 2016 after voting for President Barack Obama in 2012.
“I think [Van Drew] is… likely to keep his seat,” Princeton political science professor LaFleur Stephens-Dougan tells Vox. “His district is less moderate than [other battlegrounds in the state]. I expect that [Van Drew’s] choice to align himself with Trump should not be problematic in that district.”
Five Democrats are now competing to unseat Van Drew in November. Two of them — Montclair State University political science professor Brigid Callahan Harrison and former public school teacher Amy Kennedy — are viewed as the frontrunners due to the regional endorsements they’ve picked up. Harrison has the support of Sens. Cory Booker and Bob Menendez as well as several labor unions, while Kennedy, who’s also a member of the famous political family, has secured the backing of Gov. Phil Murphy.
Both Harrison and Kennedy have characterized Van Drew’s decision to switch parties as a betrayal. “When he voted against the [impeachment] inquiry … he failed the litmus test of a generation,” Harrison has said.
The two candidates’ policy platforms are relatively consistent. Both have said they support expanding the Affordable Care Act and differ most notably on their position on marijuana: Harrison would legalize marijuana, while Kennedy would decriminalize it. Meanwhile, Will Cunningham, an attorney and former Booker staffer, is running in the district as a progressive, backing Medicare-for-all and the Green New Deal.
Whoever wins Tuesday will have a close race against Van Drew this fall; Cook Political Report rates the seat Lean Republican.
New Jersey’s Third District: Republicans are eager to flip Rep. Andy Kim’s seat
Rep. Andy Kim’s seat, which has been rated a toss-up by Cook, is among the most vulnerable Democratic ones this cycle. Kim, a Rhodes scholar and former diplomat, first won in 2018 when he beat incumbent Republican Rep. Tom MacArthur by just over a point.
This year, Republicans are keen to retake the district, which Trump won by 6 points in 2016. Kim has a massive fundraising advantage thus far, with $3.2 million in cash on hand, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
The two candidates angling to take him on are former construction executive David Richter, a Republican previously competing in the Second District; and Kate Gibbs, a deputy director at the Engineers Labor-Employer Cooperative. They’ve had a heated contest thus far: Gibbs has slammed Richter as a “carpetbagger” who’s simply competing in the district after Van Drew switched parties last year, while Richter has criticized her for a shoplifting conviction she received when she was younger.
On the policy front, however, they share many positions, including support for Trump’s southern border wall and a focus on reducing the national debt.
New Jersey’s Fifth District: Rep. Gottheimer faces a primary challenge from the left
After scoring a string of high-profile primary victories in New York last month, progressives are hoping for at least one more in New Jersey Tuesday: In the state’s Fifth Congressional District, two-term incumbent Rep. Josh Gottheimer faces a serious challenge from neuroscientist Arati Kreibich, a local council member who has won endorsements from Sen. Bernie Sanders and the Sunrise Movement, among others.
Gottheimer, who in 2019 was one of the most conservative Democrats in the House according to GovTrack, holds a substantial fundraising advantage over his rival. As Politico reported last month, he outraised Kreibich by better than a factor of four according to pre-primary Federal Election Commission disclosures, and his campaign has a staggering $8.5 million in cash on hand.
He also has establishment backing: In a statement to Vox, the Gottheimer campaign emphasized the endorsements of New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, as well as all of the county-level Democratic committees within his district.
It’s unclear how close Tuesday’s Democratic primary might end up being. Internal polling from the Gottheimer campaign suggests he holds a lead of better than 40 points, but Kreibich told the Intercept in June that her campaign’s data shows a much closer race. Either way, a candidate’s internal poll numbers only mean so much: In New York’s 16th District, for example, incumbent Rep. Eliot Engel’s campaign touted an 8-point lead over challenger Jamaal Bowman on Twitter, shortly before Bowman cruised to a 25-point victory.
Kreibich is hopeful that late momentum will do the trick: “We’re feeling really good,” Kreibich’s campaign manager Alexander Deatrick said on Monday. “June was by far the biggest, most exciting month of our campaign by any metric — volunteers, fundraising, you name it — and so we’re just really excited that we’ve been able to building that momentum at the right time.”
On the Republican side, repeat candidate John McCann and banker Frank Pallotta are leading a four-way race, which also includes teacher James Baldini and doctor Hector Castillo. McCann is hoping for redemption after losing to Gottheimer by almost 14 points in 2018, while Pallotta, who is part of the National Republican Congressional Committee’s Young Guns program, leads the GOP field in fundraising by a substantial margin.
Whoever wins will face either Gottheimer or Kreibich in November, though the Cook Political Report has NJ-05 almost out of GOP reach in the Likely Democratic column.
New Jersey’s Seventh District: Malinowski is a top GOP target
Also on Tuesday, Republicans in New Jersey’s Seventh District will weigh in on a three-candidate race to challenge first-term Democratic Rep. Tom Malinowski in November. State Sen. Tom Kean Jr., doctor Raafat Barsoom, and HR director Tom Phillips are all vying for the GOP nomination, though Kean, who serves as minority leader in the state Senate, is the prohibitive favorite to win out.
If Kean does win on Tuesday, he’ll be waging an uphill battle to unseat Malinowski, an Obamaworld alumnus who served as assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights, and labor before winning his House seat. As the New Jersey Globe reported late last month, Malinowski, who doesn’t have a primary challenger, holds a hefty fundraising advantage with his $2.96 million war chest. Kean, by comparison, has only about $1.2 million on hand.
The district is a top target for New Jersey Republicans, however: Kean is part of the highest tier of the NRCC’s Young Guns program, which the NRCC says “represent[s] the most competitive congressional seats in the 2020 election cycle.” The Cook Political Report, though, rates the Seventh District Lean Democratic.
New Jersey Senate race: Republicans vie to take on Booker
While the state’s House races will be more interesting, New Jersey also has a statewide Senate primary taking place this Tuesday as Sen. Cory Booker runs for another term.
On the Democratic side, activist Lawrence Hamm is challenging Booker in an effort to push the lawmaker on issues including police reform. And on the Republican side, several candidates including aerospace engineer Hirsh Singh and biotech entrepreneur Rik Mehta are running for the nomination. Both Singh and Mehta have sought to align themselves closely with Trump’s approaches to immigration and taxes, while Mehta has highlighted his experience with health care policy as a key strength. Singh leads the pack in fundraising with nearly $600,000 in receipts, followed by Mehta who has almost $400,000, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Booker is the favorite in both the Democratic primary and the general election, when Republicans have historically struggled. “Statewide races are the toughest ones of all for a GOP outnumbered by a million more registered Democrats in the state,” Micah Rasmussen, director of the Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics at Rider University, told NJ Spotlight. Cook rates the seat Solid Democratic.
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