Democrats May be the Least of Kean’s Worries

Peterson at the Statehouse

Everything seemed so neat and clean in CD-7.

Democrats won the statewide map battle, but the Seventh District became more Republican, picking up GOP terrain in Sussex and Warren counties and shedding Democratic hotspots like Millburn and Dover.

Just perfect for Thomas H. Kean Jr, who only lost in 2020 by about 5,000 votes to Tom Malinowski. Surely, he’ll win this time around.

But just a few days into the new year, uncertainty is in the air.

Fueled apparently by the new map and still giddy over the party’s relative success last fall, more Republicans are expressing interest in the CD-7 seat.

Top on the list by virtue of his current position would be Erik Peterson, an assemblyman from LD-23.

Like all of the recent challengers, Peterson appears to be to the right of the more centrist Kean. This would be an obvious advantage in a primary, but it fades quickly if the right wing vote is split among a number of candidates.

Peterson was in the news most recently for protesting Statehouse vaccine mandates, at one point, claiming “tyranny” was afoot. Stunts like this cheer the conservative base, but could be viewed more dubiously by the general electorate.

The assemblyman didn’t return a phone call about his congressional interest, but Republican sources say he’s in.

Then there’s Phil Rizzo, who ran unsuccessfully in last year’s gubernatorial primary. He said in December that he’s running for Congress in the 11th District, which is where he lives (Harding Township in Morris County).  But the new map has made the 11th more Democratic, so Rizzo is reportedly mulling a switch to CD-7. As we know, one doesn’t have to live in a congressional district to run in it.

Rizzo couldn’t be reached, but his recent tweets are similar to the us-against-them viewpoint we saw last year. Here’s one of them:

“The left hates me. The establishment hates me. It’s because I fight for the people.”

We will see how this unfolds, but you can’t get more establishment than Kean Jr.

Next on the list is John Flora, the mayor of Fredon in Sussex. He was going to run in CD-5, but  moved his candidacy to CD-7 when his town was redistricted there.

Flora already has called (correctly) Kean a three-time loser as a congressional candidate. Flora says on his Facebook page that he’s more interested in raising votes than money.

And then there is Rik Mehta, who ran unsuccessfully in 2020 against Sen. Cory Booker.

He’s been in the race as a challenger to Kean the longest. This week, Mehta plans both a fundraiser and an official campaign kickoff.

Kean, for his part, was on Fox News just this morning talking about Malinowski. He said the incumbent Democrat, who is under fire for not reporting stock sales, has two choices – resign or lose.

Notwithstanding his TV appearance, Kean dating back to his 2020 campaign has been reluctant to speak to the press.

His campaign Facebook page is very much a series of endorsements by local, district Republicans and not much more than that.

Democrats in Washington have noticed. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee just fired off a release highlighting the primary challengers to “empty suit” Tom Kean Jr.

Depending on how the primary fight turns out, nasty comments by Democrats may be the least of Kean’s worries.

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