If there’s one blue seat that the Democrats seem to have decided to let go this cycle, it was New Jersey’s 7th district— all of fast-growing Hunterdon County, plus parts of Somerset, Union, Morris, Warren and Essex. When Tom Malinowski beat Leonard Lance there is 2018 there was a brand new slight Democratic lean— D+4. But when the legislature decided to shore up Blue Dogs Josh Gottheimer and Mikie Sherrill, they took Democratic precincts from NJ-07 and left Malinowski with a district that now has an R+3 partisan lean (while Gottheimer’s district went from even to D+7 and Sherrill’s went from D+1 to a nice safe and undeserved D+11). Malinowski displaced Lance 51.7% to 46.7%. In 2020 Tom Kean Jr ran against him and it was much closer:
Malinowski- 219,629 (50.6%), under-performing Biden’s 54.2%
Kean- 214,318 (49.4%), over-performing Trump’s 44.3%
In 2021 Malinowski faced serious ethics charges because of violations to the Stock Act— trading a million dollars in stocks related to COVID response, a conflict of interest. The “investigation” is on-going.
Instead of helping him, the Democratic Party-controlled state legislature’s redistricting decision was to cripple him. Current polling shows Malinowski losing in the rematch with Kean and FiveThirtyEight predicts a 51.1% to 48.9% victory for Kean:
This morning, in the NY Times, Nate Cohn made an intreresting point: It’s Time to Take Democrats’ Chances in the House Seriously. Although he thinks the GOP is still favored to gain control of the House, he asserts that “the idea that Democrats can hold the House is not as ridiculous, implausible or far-fetched as it seemed before the Dobbs ruling overturned Roe v. Wade. It is a real possibility— not some abstraction in the sense that anything can happen… If the polls are ‘right’ and Election Day were today, the fight for the House would be very close. It would be a district-by-district battle for control, one in which the race might come down to the strengths and weaknesses of individual candidates and campaigns. With a few lucky breaks, Democrats could come out ahead.”
Cohn’s analysis doesn’t apply to NJ-07 where Malinowski doesn’t seem to be getting many lucky breaks. Although… he did out-raise Kean $5,784,840 to $2,668,134 and in going into the final month of the campaign with about three times more cash on hand. That’s something. On the other hand, Kevin McCarthy’s SuperPAC has poured over a million dollars into the race and all the DCCC and Pelosi have spent defending Malinowski is an anemic quarter million.
And that brings us to the absolutely stunning Star-Ledger Malinowski endorsement yesterday. Any swing voters who were thinking Kean isn’t that bad for a Republican will have to rethink that now. “To take the measure of Republican Tom Kean Jr.’s character,” the editors began, “start with a visit to his campaign web site, where you will not see a single word about abortion. But know that he has a second web site, one that his campaign pushes only to conservative voters. There is no link from the main campaign site. Kean apparently doesn’t want all of us to see it. That one talks plainly about abortion: ‘Tom is a fierce defender of the sanctity of life, fighting every step of the way to protect the unborn from the egregious abortion laws proposed in New Jersey, and will continue to do so in Congress,’ it reads. Kean’s attempt to hide this from mainstream voters is plainly dishonest. His final vote as a state senator came in January, when he opposed a bill codifying the right to abortion in New Jersey. He voted repeatedly to cut all funding for Planned Parenthood, forcing a half dozen clinics to close. And now, on his secret web site, he explicitly promises to fight for federal restrictions on abortion rights here— no matter what people in New Jersey think.”
That’s harsh! And they were just getting warmed up. “It is a pattern with Kean, this dishonesty, and it comes as a shock to the many voters who have known and trusted his father, the former governor. But the son is not the father. The elder Kean has a moral compass and has denounced Trump as unfit to serve as president, describing his behavior on Jan. 6 as a ‘dereliction of duty.’ The father never had a secret web site designed to deceive. He broke from party leadership frequently, based on his own convictions. He won respect because he earned it. The son is a different sort entirely. When he is not flat-out dishonest, he is secretive, simply refusing to say where he stands on core issues. He refuses interviews with nearly every New Jersey publication, while granting audiences to Fox News and Breitbart. He doesn’t hold public events, and he refuses even to answer questions in writing… At age 54, he is a scared mouse hiding in his hole.”
Here’s what we know-- beyond his pro-life position on abortion, and his explicit embrace of Trump-- based on his history.
In his 2020 campaign, he sided with Big Pharma and opposed granting Medicare the authority to negotiate lower costs on behalf of seniors, a measure that Biden signed into law this year.
In Trenton, he opposed three bills in 2019 that were aimed at cutting health costs, and that worked, reducing premiums on the individual market by 9 percent. When the Legislature passed a resolution opposing the repeal of Obamacare, and its protections for those with pre-existing conditions, Kean again voted “no.” He even opposed a law that protects patients in hospital emergency rooms from surprise medical bills from out-of-network providers.
He opposed the bill that increased taxes on incomes over $1 million, a bill that devoted new revenue to grant middle-class families tax relief.
He was known in Trenton for his timidity. He voted in favor of the “Superstorm Sandy Bill of Rights” intended to help people seeking federal relief, but reversed himself after Gov. Chris Christie vetoed it, backing the veto. And with reporters, he started nearly every conversation with his plaintive, “This is off the record, right?”
Kean was an early supporter of the successful charter school movement, and he supported Christie’s pension and health reforms, which proved critical to improving the state’s fiscal health. Give him that. But even then, he was a follower, not a leader. Those reforms were hammered out between Christie and the Democratic Senate President, Steve Sweeney.
What Kean offers, in the end, is passive support for the MAGA movement, and a history of siding with special interest groups like Big Pharma, along with the wealthiest among us. And with his imperial conduct during this campaign, his fourth attempt to reach Congress, he is making his own small contribution to the weakening of our democracy. In this moment of peril, he offers only cowardice and careerism.
We endorse, with great enthusiasm, Rep. Tom Malinowski, a centrist member of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus, a spirited defender of our democracy, and a relentless and effective advocate for his district. This one is not a close call.
Begin with the bacon. Malinowski chose to sit on the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure so that he would have leverage to secure funding for the most important federal project to New Jersey by far, building a new rail tunnel under the Hudson River.
He was a leader in that effort, and it succeeded, a godsend to the many commuters in the 7th district. The funding came after the Problem Solvers’ Caucus, with equal numbers of Republicans and Democrats, mapped out a blueprint for infrastructure spending that, in the end, carried the day. It was a bipartisan win that showed government can still work, and Malinowski was in the middle of it.
He was the chief sponsor of a bill that ensured small towns and counties could get a fair share of pandemic aid, a move that prevented layoffs of police and other municipal employees, and, in Warren County, left room for property tax relief. That’s effective advocacy from a lawmaker with bipartisan credibility. It helps explain why Malinowski has won the endorsement of the newly formed Moderate Party, which is in court seeking a spot on the ballot.
On the great questions of the day, Malinowski has supported every major bipartisan initiative. That includes the infrastructure bill; the CHIPS Act, designed to fortify our competitiveness with China on advanced technology and expand America’s capacity to manufacture computer chips; and the efforts to fix our electoral system to prevent a repeat of the mayhem we saw on January 6.
“I want to get things done,” Malinowski says.
He’s supported the meat of President Biden’s agenda, including the game-changing support to fight climate change, and the bills to reduce drugs costs by negotiating with Medicare, capping insulin costs, and limiting out-of-pocket spending by seniors at $2,000 a year.
…We’re likely to see smear tactics from Kean in the closing weeks. In the 2020 election, he accused Malinowski of protecting sexual predators of children, an outrageous lie that Kean seems to have dropped this time around. This year, he has harped on Malinowski’s failure to report stock trades on timeThat was an inexplicable oversight on Malinowski’s part, but it is not evidence of corruption, just sloppiness. The Office of Congressional Ethics found no evidence of insider trading and concluded that Malinowski was telling the truth when he said his broker made the trades without his knowledge. For the record, this paperwork violation is quite common. And he’s established a blind trust, which Kean has not.
In the end, this election is about much more than the rail tunnel, or the cost of prescription drugs. This is a moment in American history that reveals the character of our political leaders, a moment when nearly half the country has embraced a conspiracy theory aimed at the heart of our democracy, the Big Lie.
The scary fact is that MAGA Republicans still refuse to accept the clear verdict of voters, and are working hard to clear the path for another challenge in 2024. Republicans of character, like Rep. Liz Cheney in Washington and state Sen. Jon Bramnick in Trenton, are standing up to this with the moral clarity the moment demands.
Kean is hiding in his hole, hoping voters don’t notice that he is shrinking from this challenge, while laying the groundwork to join the MAGA team quietly. Have no doubt, though, he will go along with the worst of it if he gets a chance. When he announced his campaign, the man he invited to stand by his side was GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy, Trump’s most obsequious boot licker.
And now, Kean’s embrace of Trump is unconditional. In a mailer to voters, his team highlights a sentence written by this editorial board: “No matter what Trump does, Kean has his back.”
We meant that as a criticism. But Kean apparently liked it, and is proud to surrender his own judgement to the MAGA King. We can only hope that voters in the 7th District want a Congressman who is loyal to them instead.