ROXBURY _ Sunday morning is not your ideal time for pizza, but there were Democratic congressional candidate Tom Malinowski and about two dozen supporters crowding into a Route 46 pizza joint at 11 a.m.
Western Morris County long has been “ruby-red,” but Democrats are expressing guarded optimism at Malinowski’s chances to upend Republican Leonard Lance in the 7th congressional district. Most of Morris is in the 11th District, but the western frontier, if you will, is in the 7th.
With many attending the “meet and greet” eschewing pepperoni pizza for glazed doughnuts, one Malinowski volunteer said she had been canvassing Chester for the Democrat. That was a bit frustrating, but she said she wouldn’t be wasting her time if she wasn’t optimistic.
Chip Robinson, the county Democratic chair, was predictably upbeat. He said Democrats have opened a campaign office on Main Street in Chester. That would have been unheard of five years ago.
Local resident Joe Corsetto told Malinowski he wanted to pick up campaign signs. He’s enthused, saying he has daughters who live in Essex County who will vote for Democrat Mikie Sherrill in the 11th District.
What’s driving him?
“The gut sickness of Donald Trump’s presidency … truly is a driving force,” he said.
Malinowski largely avoided that type of rhetoric.
In fact, as he told township resident Ralph Nappi, he wants voters to see him as a moderate. Nappi, a regular at township public meetings, acknowledged liking some things about Lance, but said that lately the incumbent has been talking out of “both sides of his mouth.”
Malinowski put his views this way. He said he wants fiscal responsibility, is pro-military and that he wants ethics in government.
“If I said that 10 years ago, what party would you say I was in?” he asked.
Malinowski supplied the answer. He would sound like a Republican. In this district, sounding like a Republican is not bad strategy.
But this sort of bipartisanship goes only so far.
In a conversation with two residents, Malinowski, whose government background is in supporting human rights, condemned the president’s seeming reluctance to harshly denounce Saudi Arabia for the kingdom’s apparent murder of a Saudi journalist in Turkey.
Malinowski said that if the United States avoids standing up strongly for human rights, it can embolden dictatorships all over the world.
That, he said, could lead to more killings of journalists and dissidents.
He also said Republicans are uttering a “cynical lie” if they say they want to maintain health insurance protections for those with pre-existing conditions. He said repealing the Affordable Care Act, as many Republicans say they want to do, would eliminate that protection.
Later, in remarks to the crowd, Malinowski faulted many Republicans for walking in lock-step with Trump, ridiculing those who trust Fox News over the FBI.
Republicans are taking nothing for granted.
The Morris County Republican Committee boasted in a release on Sunday that the affluent county is “beautiful and thriving,” because of GOP representation. It also put out an electronic shout for volunteers to make phone calls and knock on doors.
All this interest in northwest New Jersey congressional politics is quite rare. As Malinowski correctly noted, New Jersey’s 7th District used to be a pretty “sleepy” place.
Not this year.