CD7 Flashpoint: Kean Jr. Hobbled Early in Matchup with Malinowski

CD7, Kean and Malinowski.

Candidates campaign for each other all the time – usually without giving it much thought at all.

That’s clearly what Tom Kean Jr., the Republican candidate in CD-7, was doing a week or so ago in Garwood on behalf of council candidate Jesse Wilson.

Then things kind of blew up. Wilson, it seems, has a history of making allegedly racist and homophobic social media posts. And here was Kean extolling his benefits at a campaign kickoff.

The fallout was quick.

Democrat Tom Malinowski quickly accused Kean of selling out to racists if there was an endorsement to be had.

For his part, the Kean camp sent out a statement saying that had the campaign been aware of the posts in question, (state) “Senator Kean never would have attended this event.”

Kean deserves to be believed. He can be faulted for not checking out Wilson’s background, but as we said, candidates tend to appear with other candidates as a matter of course.

Still, this is an unfortunate occurrence for a candidate trying to “reclaim” the 7th District for the GOP.

The Kean name is legendary in New Jersey political circles because of the candidate’s father. Thomas H. Kean Sr. just barely won the governorship in 1981, but four years later, he was reelected in a tremendous landslide. He then went on to be president of Drew University and to head the national committee looking into the 9/11 attacks.

Kean Jr., has had a more difficult time climbing the political ladder. He lost a race for the House in the 2000 primary and a run for U.S. Senate against Bob Menendez in 2006.

CD-7 ranges over parts of Essex, Hunterdon, Morris, Somerset, Union and Warren counties in the central and western part of the state. Like the neighboring, and also very suburban 11th District, Democrats are growing in strength. September registration statistics from the state show that the district now has about 8,000 more Democrats than Republicans.

The reverse was true two years ago, but Malinowski still beat incumbent Republican Leonard Lance by about 16,000 votes.

Lance was in a difficult spot in 2018. Long a GOP moderate, he found himself in a party captured by Donald Trump and the far right. In his campaign, Lance essentially tried to split hairs – maintaining support for traditional Republican values, but also distancing himself from some of Trump’s tweets. That was a difficult – and as it turned out – unsuccessful balancing act.

How Kean will handle the president at the top of the ticket is a key campaign question.

One of his early ads is about as non-controversial as can be. In the script, Kean talks about these being “difficult times.”

“We’re concerned about our kids, our jobs and our safety,” he says. “But too many politicians only care about themselves.”

But not Tom Kean. He takes credit for working across party lines to help combat domestic violence and to help seniors with prescription drug prices.

Kean is opening campaign offices around the district, which he calls “Victory Centers.” The recent opening of the Somerset County office was closed to the press. If this is to be the norm, it’s a strange one.

Malinowski has held virtual town halls all summer. Some are devoted to specific subjects like the pandemic or Social Security while others are more free-wheeling. These events are not nearly as much fun as a town hall with real people in attendance, but they allow Malinowski to hold forth on a variety of topics. Call it an advantage of incumbency.

This race may be pretty low-key at the moment, but don’t expect it to stay that way.

Malinowski had about $3.3 million in hand as of the last filing deadline compared to about $1.3 million for Kean. But the challenger certainly has enough cash to get his point across.

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