Dead Heat on a Malinowski-Kean Merry-go-Round

Tom Giblin with Governor Phil Murphy.

If an incumbent is tied, he’s losing.

That is the prevailing thought when it comes to political campaigns.

And so it was that when a poll last week on the looming CD-7 rematch between incumbent Tom Malinowski and Tom Kean Jr. showed the two men tied with 46 percent, Republicans were delighted. The response from Republicans and conservative social media sites was something like this:

“Malinowski is toast. He’s been in office for four years and he’s only tied.”

Along those lines, a GOP source said Malinowski “should” be up by five points at this stage of the race.

What adds to the GOP glee is that the poll was done by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research or GQR, a left-leaning pollster.

Here’s a reality check.

That poll is not necessarily all that bad for Malinowski.

Let’s remember that in 2020, Malinowski held his seat by about 5,300 votes. That was 5,300 out of about 434,000 votes cast.

In other words, that race was very close to being a 50-50 split.

So if it is still 50-50, Malinowski hasn’t lost anything.

That’s important when you consider two significant factors.

One is a national mood that has moved – or is moving – toward Republicans. The GOP now leads in many polls in which voters are asked which party they want to control Congress. The GQR poll candidly put it this way:

“Arguably, we are at a low point in the national Democratic brand.”

Then there’s the picture “on the ground.”

Democrats did Malinowski no favors. It was the Democrats’ redistricting map that made CD-7 a tad more Republican. The district lost solid Democratic towns like Dover and Millburn and picked up Republican terrain in Warren and Sussex counties.

Amid all that, it’s probably not horrible to be tied. Malinowski for his part has begun meeting residents at various spots around the district. He was in Mendham last week and plans an event in Bridgewater on Wednesday.

Another factor in the race is what the House Ethics Committee will do. It is considering whether Malinowski violated the STOCK Act by not disclosing relevant stock transactions in a timely manner. The congressman has said this was a mistake and that he has taken steps to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

The poll did offer one other tidbit.

“This is still the kind of suburban district that reviles MAGA; nearly two thirds of voters believe President Biden was legitimately elected, and (Donald) Trump is deeply disliked with only 38 percent favorable, 56 percent unfavorable,” it said.

This can make things interesting for Kean, who can’t forget about the Trump following in his own party.

Two seemingly credible candidates are challenging Kean from the right in the June primary.

One is Assemblyman Erik Peterson, whose Facebook page includes a quote from Laura Ingraham saluting his “courage.” The apparent reference is to Peterson’s involvement in a Republican protest at the Statehouse last December against vaccine mandates.

The other is former gubernatorial candidate Phil Rizzo, who authored a recent Facebook post reading “Indict Hillary.” That’s all it said.

Kean, of course, seems assured of winning the primary, But after that, he must walk a tightrope between catering to the so-called Trump cult and also seeking support from moderate conservatives in the general.

So far, Kean is ignoring all of this. His Facebook page is mostly devoted to endorsements from local Republicans – as if endorsing the established candidate is a surprise. Kean does have a fundraiser set for next week at a brew pub in Long Valley hosted by Matt Murello, the local mayor.

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