Battleground 2022: Who Will Survive, Who Will Perish at the Biden Battle of Midway?

Malinowski and Kim

Democrats quake with the 2022 expectation of history repeating itself, as presidents in power generally lose congressional seats at the midway point of their first terms, New Jersey offering few exceptions to that rule, usually adding its own contribution(s) to the national pile of presidential party casualties.

Over the course of the last 32 years, 1990 and 2002 – the Bush 1 and Bush 2 elections, both defined by seismic world events – proved the exceptions.

In 2002, then-President George W. Bush, a Republican – leading the country in the aftermath of 9/11 – picked up eight congressional seats nationally. In that same year in New Jersey, all the incumbent congress people won reelection with the exception of the late Marge Roukema (R-5), who retired. A fellow Republican, Scott Garrett, won the subsequent contest for her seat.

Bush neither gained nor lost in the Garden State.

In 2010, then-President Barack Obama, a Democrat, lost 63 seats nationally, and one Democratic seat in

Obama in Newark

New Jersey, as the late U.S. Rep. John Adler (D-3) failed to win reelection in a close contest with former Philadelphia Eagles football player Jon Runyan (R-3). In 2018, then-President Donald Trump lost 40 seats nationally, and four seats in New Jersey (the 2nd, the 3rd, the 7th, and the 11th). It should be noted that Josh Gottheimer – a Democrat – had already flipped the Fifth Congressional seat from Republican to Democrat in 2016 and re-secured his seat in 2018; and that in 2020, U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew, who had won the Second Congressional District seat as a Democrat two years earlier, won reelection after he changed his party affiliation to Republican.

Prior to 2002, then-President Bill Clinton, a Democrat, lost 52 congressional seats at the midway point of his first term in 1994, including two in New Jersey; in the 2nd District, where the late U.S. Rep. William Hughes (D-2) declined to  run for reelection, and Republican Frank LoBiondo snagged the seat; and in the 8th District, where Republican Bill Martini defeated U.S. Rep. Herb Klein (D-8) by two percent.


In 1990, then-President George H.W. Bush – leading the country in the First Gulf War – lost just eight seats nationally, none of them in New Jersey.

From the 1990 New York Times:

“In New Jersey’s 14 Congressional races, rendered volatile both by resentment over tax increases wrought by Gov. Jim Florio and general discontent over the performance of Congress, the state’s 12 incumbents still fared well, winning all their races. In the other two races, a Democratic district stayed Democratic, and a Republican district remained Republican. In one of those two open races, Republican State Senator Richard A. Zimmer defeated the Democrat, Marguerite Chandler, a Somerset County businesswoman, 66 to 34 percent in nearly complete returns in a costly race for the seat being vacated by Jim Courter, who ran unsuccessfully against Mr. Florio for Governor last year. In the Governor’s own First District, Democratic Freeholder Director Rob Andrews faced a surprisingly strong challenge from Gloucester County Republican Freeholder Dan Mangini, who ran almost solely on the issue of “taxes, taxes, taxes,” and called Mr. Andrews “Florio’s clone.” But with 98 percent of the votes counted, Mr. Andrews won with 54 percent of the vote to Mr. Mangini’s 46 percent.”

Twelve years later, as noted, George W. Bush would prove the midterm election equal of his father in New Jersey, riding a high approval rating to an even better showing with his pickup of seats, while tying him in New Jersey with no gains and no loses.

The question now is whether New Jersey, with President Joe Biden in charge and facing his own midway

President Joe Biden addresses the nation.
President Joe Biden

point, will produce a congressional ballot result similar to the Bushes (no changes), Clinton (two loses), Obama (one loss), or Trump (four losses).

Most insiders predict that N.J. will deal Biden the loss of one congressional seat, and based on the redistricting map, most expect that seat to be in CD-7, a district served -and served up on the Democratic map – by U.S. Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-7).

Democrats don’t expect to experience Trump-like blowout numbers here. First of all, they enjoy large voter registration advantages. Second of all, they won the redistricting fight when Judge John Wallace picked their map, which improves the districts of all their incumbents with the exception of Malinowski. Then the map held up in court. They also like their incumbents (with the exception of Malinowski).

Dr. Patrick Murray, Monmouth University Polling Director
Dr. Patrick Murray, Monmouth University Polling Director

But Monmouth University Pollster Patrick Murray cautions about overconfidence, or crystal balling a casualty rate.

Many factors go into the process in especially volatile times, including the president’s approval rating, the state of the economy, the state of the pandemic, and – reflecting on the Bushes in particular – the impact of America’s role in world events and the electorate’s perception of presidential leadership in trying circumstances.

Murray acknowledges that Malinowski – a victim of the map, who barely won reelection in 2020 when he still possessed a stalwart town like Millburn – occupies the most perilous position of all the New Jersey incumbent congress people.

Who’s next?

“I don’t think [U.S. Rep. Andy] Kim is absolutely safe and secure in this environment,” the political scientist said.

That’s right now, under current conditions.

If Biden shrivels up worse than the present Kim could be in trouble.


“I can’t predict what November will be,” Murray said. “If you look at 2021, the shift [away from incumbent Governor Phil Murphy toward Republican challenger Jack Ciattarelli] happened in October, right before the election There was a the real shift, and it happened very fast. If 2021 happened a month earlier, Murphy would have won by a greater margin.”

Murray also said he thinks incumbent Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe would have won.

“That’s how quickly something can move; and [the governors’ races] were nationalized in a way we haven’t seen before,” he argued. “It was the [COVID-19] Delta variant. People got scared and were hunkered down with the party in charge, only to learn that the Delta variant wasn’t as deadly. It all happened over a period of about four weeks.”

Biden faces multiple challenges.

What will happen in Ukraine with Russia?

What will COVID look like in the fall?


“If the election were held today, Andy Kim would [probably win],” Murray said.

In November – he can’t say.

No doubt, redistricting helped Kim. He lost Ocean County and picked up more towns where educated white voters think Republicans have gone off the deep end in the culture wars. But he also absorbed a big classically battleground town like Hamilton, where voters have a history of producing split results.

“Joe Biden is not popular right now,” said Murray, “but when you look at voters, it’s not the kind of visceral reaction voters had with Trump.”

For that reason in part, Murray doesn’t think U.S. Rep. Gotthemier (D-5), occupant of another supposed

Josh Gottheimer
Josh Gottheimer

battleground, will have the trouble that U.S. Rep. Leonard Lance (R-7) did in 2018, for example. A Republican, Lance tried to hold a middle ground in an appeal to moderate voters. It didn’t work, as Malinowski beat him with an anti-Trump message coupled with an argument that the incumbent Republican congressman lacked effectiveness.

“I don’t think Gottheimer is facing the same kind of visceral reaction to Trump, first of all,” Murray said. “But also, he has differentiated himself from the image of the Democratic Party much more successfully than Lance with the Republican image. The problem for Lance was yes, he’s not like one of those guys, but he’s also ineffective at stopping them.”

Gottheimer led the breakup of Biden’s key legislation that resulted in a successful infrastructure act and Gateway Tunnel funding, and a simultaneous derailment of progressive programs. It also meant the failure of the SALT tax restoration, but presumably Gottheimer can take credit for two out of three key measures, at least.

As for U.S. Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-11), barring unprecedented catastrophic shifting political weather, Murray says she likewise shouldn’t have too much trouble winning reelection. “Sherrill’s such a great campaigner, with a better district; even with the potential of a red wave, she is in good shape.”

Things could change – even dramatically – but right now, today, New Jersey stands to lose one seat, by Murray’s reckoning – possibly two.

U.S. Rep. Mikie Sherrill in LD24.
U.S. Rep. Mikie Sherrill
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