New Jersey two-term incumbent Rep. Tom Malinowski’s (D-N.J.) sustained tenure appears tenuous with a host of indicators making him the underdog in his Nov. 8 rematch against Republican Tom Kean, Jr., who came within 1 percentage point of unseating him in their 2020 Congressional District 7 (CD 7) contest.
The most significant of these aligning indicators are voter registration numbers in the wake of the state’s post-2020 Census redistricting that recast formerly Democrat-leaning CD 7—which Malinowski barely won two years ago—as more competitive for Republican candidates.
In Kean’s case, perhaps decisively so.
As newly constituted, CD 7 now has 30,000 more Republicans than it did in 2020 when Kean, the grandson of former U.S. Rep. Robert Kean (R-N.J.), and son of former Republican Gov. Thomas Kean, Sr., lost to Malinowski by less than 5,300 votes.
In fact, according to the New Jersey Division of Elections (DOE), as of Nov. 1, there were now more registered Republicans than Democrats in CD 7, which is among the nation’s 10 most affluent and well-educated congressional districts; it includes former President Donald Trump’s Bedminster golf resort.
The New Jersey DOE reports 33 percent—206,589—of the “new” CD 7’s 617,703 voters are registered Republicans with 30 percent—less than 190,000—registered as Democrats.
The remaining 35 percent of CD 7’s registered electorate—214,700 voters—are unaffiliated. Their ballots will be the difference in a district President Joe Biden won by 10 percentage points in 2020 but, according to analysts, would only win now by less than 4 percentage points if he can retain a winning share of independents.
Polls showing CD 7’s unaffiliated voters citing inflation and the economy as their top concerns are another indicator that Kean is likely to garner enough ballots from this determinative bloc to unseat Malinowski.
As of Nov. 2, the Cook Political Report and Larry J. Sabato’s Crystal Ball rate CD 7 as “leans Republican.” Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the Kean–Malinowski race as a “toss-up.”
FiveThirtyEight has Kean “slightly favored” to win. Politico forecasts Kean winning 52–48 percent on Nov. 8. Malinowski says his internal polling shows a dead heat—an optimistic tie, when you think about it.
Another indicator is money. According to their campaigns’ Oct. 31 Federal Elections Commission (FEC) filings, Malinowski’s campaign has out-raised and outspent Kean’s—$8.4 million and $6.8 million to $4 million and $3.2 million—but that only tells half the story; the other half favors Kean.
Outside groups have pumped about $15 million into the race with the Congressional Leadership Fund, the campaign financing arm of House Republicans, spearheading a $10 million advertising blitz by it and other GOP PACs on behalf of Kean.
Those indicators have analysts nationwide watching New Jersey’s marquee midterm rematch between Malinowski and Kean as an opportunity for the GOP to flip one of the state’s 10 Democratic-held seats red to secure a key step in the party’s quest to gain the five seats needed to capture control of the House in 2023.
The Malinowski–Kean II race is among 22 elections nationwide where congressional seats now held by Democrats are up for grabs in “tossup” races, according to the Cook Partisan Voter Index.
Along with contests in Virginia’s CD 2 and CD 7, how New Jersey’s CD 7 race unfolds on Nov. 8 could be a bellwether in presaging which party wins the rest of the day and controls Congress beginning in 2023.
Both campaigns reflect generic partisan talking points and polarities with both candidates touting self-described moderate platforms in appealing to the purple district’s voters while calling their opponent a puppet of extremist leaders too radical for suburban New Jersey—Malinowski of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif), Kean says; and, Malinowski says, Kean of former President Trump.
The Kean campaign has focused on inflation and the economy with top priorities of “reining in out-of-control spending,” making America energy independent, and supporting middle-class tax relief.
On abortion, Kean supports a right to choose up to 20 weeks and allowances after that for some circumstances. His campaign circulates a Parents Voice Coalition Petition “against (New Jersey Democratic) Gov. Phil Murphy’s ‘CRT agenda.’”
Kean, 54, who served 20 years in the New Jersey State Assembly, including 12 as Senate minority leader, has run a cloistered campaign, turning down debate challenges by Malinowski, holding no press conferences, staging RSVP-only rallies and events, while conditions interviews with select conservative outlets.
Malinowski, 57, a native of Poland, served on President Bill Clinton’s National Security Council, was the chief advocate for Human Rights Watch, and was an assistant secretary of state under President Barack Obama.
Although regarded as one of the more conservative House Democrats, his top priorities are ensuring access to abortion by federal law. His campaign insists Kean would support fellow Republicans in allowing states to ban abortion, and vote for a national prohibition in Congress.
Unlike Kean, Malinowski has run an aggressive campaign with public rallies and events across Central New Jersey, calling Kean a lackey of the “far loony right.”
Another indicator is self-inflicted damage that Malinowski has imposed on his campaign that could have a bearing on how voters in this district cast ballots unlike many others elsewhere.
A significant segment of the district’s electorate work in New York City’s FinTech and stockbroker industries. Malinowski is under investigation by the federal Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC) for failing to disclose hundreds of January 2019–May 2021 stock transactions.
Malinowski has acknowledged and apologized for what he called an error in oversight, but the Kean campaign is calling it corruption. Malinowski has since placed his assets into a blind trust.