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Democratic and Republican voters cannot take anything for granted in New Jersey’s Congressional District 3. Over the last decade, the political sands have shifted in this South Jersey district like the Jersey shore itself. While no dramatic landslides have taken place in this district in recent years, that makes it a district where complacency by either party could spell the difference between victory or defeat.
As CD3 straddles South Jersey, the trousers belt of the state stretching from the Atlantic to the Delaware River, it is a largely suburban district with the popular Jersey Shore as an economic hub. Joint Base McGuire–Dix–Lakehurst, the only base in the country to serve the Army, Navy, and Air Force, is another critical district feature, both for jobs as well as national defense. Issues which relate to the boardwalk businesses of Seaside Heights, or an embattled diner owner in Lacey Township, or the Mount Laurel suburbanites living in the orbit of Philadelphia demonstrate complex and divided political leanings that the candidates will have to chart carefully to tip the scales in their favor.
Politically, a Basswood Research poll said that in July, Trump had a lead on Biden by 3 points, which was considered “within the margin of error” to the frustration of political scientists and wonks. At the same time, incumbent Rep. Andy Kim was leading Republican challenger David Richter by about the same margin. The expected outcome? Clear as mud.
The 3rd Congressional District is predominantly white and voted for Trump over Clinton by 6.2% in 2016, the election which brought Republican Congressman Tom MacArthur back for another term by a solid 59.3%. On the presidential level, this was a change as CD3 swung to Obama twice, and prior for George W. Bush’s second term, and prior still for Al Gore in 2000. CD3 has, in the last two decades, proven itself a true political pendulum which is as exciting for popcorn-munching poli-sci types as it is nerve wracking for candidates.
Incumbent freshman Congressman Andy Kim (D) stands as one of the youngest members of the House, just qualifying as a Millennial at the age of 38. He was brought into office riding the Blue Wave of 2018, seen largely as a midterm referendum on President Trump, and while that wave carried him from the tempestuous political sea to shore, he did not displace former Congressman Tom MacArthur (R) by a significant margin. Indeed, taking 50% of the vote to MacArthur’s 48.7%, this razor-thin contest was one of the real nail-biters of the previous election. In a district which leans Republican, the Kim victory might have seemed like a shock for some, but the reality is that CD3 has delivered Democrats before. Prior to MacArthur, Congressman Jon Runyan (R) represented the district, himself having taken the seat from the late John Adler (D) in 2010. A change from Democrat to Republican to Democrat within a eight years does not signal any particular advantage to one party or the other.
David Richter (R) is a Harvard-educated lawyer, businessman, and former CEO of international construction management services firm Hill International. Despite being blasted by hard-right Breitbart in December, which alleged he donated to Ron Andrews, a Democrat who unsuccessfully ran against then-Senator Jim McGreevey for nomination for Governor twenty-three years ago, and had dismissed Donald Trump’s credibility when the latter was a candidate in 2015. Richter proved the Bannon-machine wrong and defeated Kate Gibb by a wide margin in the 2020 primary, taking 61% and unquestionably securing the confidence of the Republican faithful in CD3.
Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, one of the key issues which swirled around CD3’s election was that of healthcare. Living in the age of COVID, healthcare is, indeed, an international priority, and political candidates have sparred over the best approach to deal with it and the associated impacts of the costs of healthcare. Kim was motivated to run for office because he was alarmed that Rep. MacArthur had voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. Prior to becoming a congressman, Kim was no stranger to Washington DC, either, as he served in the Obama administration as a national security advisor and on the National Security Council.
Richter has said that he wants to promote free-market alternatives and “fight against socialized medicine” to bring lower-cost drugs and medical care.
According to Ocean County Senior Services, in 2018 residents over the age of 60 made up 29.6% of the population. This is a key demographic for those courting votes, as Ocean County leans Republican, as generally do seniors compared to younger voters, while healthcare, Social Security, and insurance benefits are of primary importance, especially as seniors find it increasingly difficult to deal with the rising cost of living expenses on fixed incomes. Kim was appointed in April to serve on the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, giving New Jersey a federal-level voice on the ground-floor of national pandemic policymaking and seniors have proven to be most at risk from the coronavirus. The senior citizen demographic could be one of the most critical for the Kim and Richter.
As CD3 is home to the Joint Base, Kim has some strong credentials with his former National Security Council background and his membership in the House Committee on Armed Services. Richter has promised to increase military spending and reform the VA. The military vote will be crucial in CD3, as many families work in support of, or benefit by the patronage of the armed services. While the Republicans typically cast themselves as the champions of the military, they may find it difficult to make good on their brand facing a combination of Kim’s background and, more dramatically, the fallout and dissatisfaction from veterans in light of Donald Trump’s alleged remarks disparaging American war dead as “suckers” and “losers” following a report from The Atlantic. To the north, Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D), a former navy pilot waging her own re-election campaign in CD5, told NJ.com’s Julie O’Connor that “I was really sickened by it.” For Ritcher, this may present a serious headache that was no fault of his, unless he can skillfully distance himself from the president’s alleged remarks, while also capitalizing on sharing his ticket on the ballot.
While CD3 has not seen any notable violent demonstrations over the long hot summer of 2020 following the murder of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and the shooting of Jason Blake, both Kim and Richter have come out and made statements in light of the incidents. Ritcher condemned the killing of George Floyd, and said that the public should also not lose trust in law enforcement. Taking on the slogan of “Defend, Don’t Defund,” Richter collected an endorsement from the New Jersey PBA in August. Kim was one of ten New Jersey Representatives (all Democrats) to co-sponsor the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2020 (HR7120) which has since passed the House.
Every vote needs to be earned, and that will not prove easy for either candidate. While no outcome is ever certain in CD3, what is certain is this. The election pitting a liberal incumbent Democrat against a Trump Republican challenger in a conservative district that will not be taken for granted by either side, will prove the stuff of (outdoor or 25% capacity) diner-booth chatter for a long time to come.
- Andy Kim
- Breonna Taylor
- Burlington County
- Burlington County Democrats
- Burlington County GOP
- David Richter
- Donald Trump
- George Floyd
- Joe Biden
- John Adler
- Jon Runyan
- Julie O'Connor
- Kate Gibbs
- Mikie Sherrill
- Ocean County
- Ocean County Democrats
- Ocean County GOP
- Tom MacArthur
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