Sue Altman was asked about her adventure back in 2019 when Sen. Robert Smith ordered her removed from a legislative hearing involving George Norcross.
That showed her authenticity, Altman told Morris County Democrats Thursday night over Zoom.
“Who better to stick it to Tom Kean Jr. than someone who has been fighting against both parties when they go astray?” she said.
Jason Blazakis was up next in what was a back-to-back candidate forum.
“I wasn’t a trust fund baby like Tom Kean Jr,” he said.
In fact, part of his youth was spent picking peaches and strawberries in his native Warren County.
The connection here, of course, is Kean, who won his CD-7 seat in 2022 by a bit less than 9,000 votes, ousting Democrat Tom Malinowski.
CD-7 became more Republican after redistricting, which likely was why Malinowski lost. There are now about 17,000 more registered Republicans than Democrats in a rather large district – at least by New Jersey standards – that ranges over at least parts of six counties in northern and western Jersey.
As it was in 2022, CD-7 looms as the most competitive congressional race in the state with Altman and Blazakis vying for the Democratic nod to challenge Kean.
Altman grew up in Hunterdon County and emerged politically as Executive Director of the New Jersey Working Families Alliance. It was that position that brought her to the aforementioned hearing involving Norcross and state tax breaks.
Blazakis is a former State Department employee who spent time in Afghanistan and elsewhere working primarily in counterterrorism. He is now a professor at the Middlebury Institute.of International Studies.
Both candidates, coincidentally, live in Lambertville in the district’s western edge.
And they both, not surprisingly, see CD-7 as a place where Democrats can win. But there are some obvious hurdles for whoever wins the primary.
Dems have to do better than they did in 2022 in the most conservative parts of the district – Sussex and Warren counties. Kean won those counties by about 14,000 votes combined. A notable difference this time around is that in a presidential election, more people will be voting. But anyone who tells you now which party a higher turnout will benefit is just guessing.
There are debates to come, but as of now, there are not many philosophical differences between the candidates on such standard Democratic positions as backing abortion rights, gay rights and banning so-called assault weapons.
On foreign policy, both candidates support Ukraine’s fight against Russia and expressed backing for Israel. Both were wary about a unilateral ceasefire, noting that Hamas attacked Israel and is not trustworthy.
The political goal going forward will be to label Kean as being too cozy with the MAGA-wing of the Republican Party for suburban Jersey.
Altman sought to do that by bringing up a scheduled visit to the district later this month on Kean’s behalf by Speaker Mike Johnson. She said that speaks to the congressman siding with an anti-abortion, anti-gay agenda.
Blazakis was on that point as well, saying that Kean has shown support in Congress for “insurrectionists” and “election deniers.”
For what it’s worth, four months before the primary, Altman is outraising Blazakis by about 2-1 However, Blazakis touted a poll that said has him in a better position against Kean than Altman.
During the combined 90-minute or so session, Blazakis also said Congressman Kean doesn’t have in-person town halls, or talk to the press.
Fair point, but will that impact the race? It didn’t hurt Kean two years ago.