CLINTON – His “Congress on your Corner” event nearing its end, Tom Malinowski took one more question. He may wish he hadn’t.
An older gent in a Ron Paul baseball cap asked about the defense budget – he wanted it cut. He then went on to gripe about NATO, seemed to question if Russia was really the aggressor in Ukraine and ultimately wished the congressman a crushing defeat on Nov. 8.
Events of this type generally draw more supporters than detractors, but as we saw last Thursday in this Hunterdon County town, public interactions are always a plunge into the unknown.
Malinowski, who is seeking reelection in CD-7, estimates he’s had at least 130 such sessions; he was first elected in 2018. In fact, he had three last week – a similar “Congress on your Corner” in Springfield last Tuesday and a virtual “town hall” on Wednesday besides the event in Clinton Town Hall.
All this is relevant when you consider that Tom Kean Jr., the CD-7 Republican candidate in 2020 and again this year, is taking quite a different approach.
The Kean campaign seems intent on keeping the candidate out of situations where he may have to answer questions from the general public or the press.
A prime example of this thinking was National Night Out, an annual event held in early August in many towns. This setting allows local police and other first responders to interact with the public amid a festive atmosphere that usually includes music and snacks. What’s better than hot dogs and ice cream on a summer evening?
These events are made for politicians who get to mingle and pose with local cops. Prior to the event, the Kean campaign didn’t respond to a question about which National Night Out events the candidate planned to attend. Why the need to shroud Kean talking to law enforcement officers in secret? Additional attempts to spend time with Kean on the campaign trail have been unavailing.
In some ways. of course, this strategy could be to Kean’s benefit. Keep in mind that the district now has more Republicans than Democrats. So if the local press gripes about lack of access, the Kean campaign can write it off as the “left wing media” looking to discredit him. Kean occasionally does appear on right-wing media outlets.
At the same time, you have to think there is some value in stating your views and at times, sparring with people who disagree. You can’t do that if you do not engage.
At his event in Springfield, Malinowski took a question from an Army veteran who wanted to talk about what is now the one-year anniversary of the U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan, hardly a shining moment for the administration.
Agreeing that the departure was not good, Malinowski said his overall view may differ from a prevailing position of people in both parties.
“The most fundamental mistake was deciding to leave, more so than how it was conducted,” he said.
It’s an interesting take, but one that begs an obvious question. If not last August, just when should U.S. troops have left Afghanistan?
Malinowski also used these forums to highlight some of the accomplishments of the current Congress.
“We’ve got a good story to tell,” he said. And he then went on to tell it.
Malinowski highlighted legislation to help bolster U.S. infrastructure, the CHIP acts, which helps the nation’s microchip industry, and the recently-signed Inflation Reduction Act, which among other things, allows Medicare to begin negotiating the prices of some drugs and awards tax credits for buying electric cars and moving to clean energy.
The incumbent also uses these sessions to stress his support for abortion rights, which Democrats across the country hope will be a big motivator for their voters. He already has an ad stressing his pro-choice views.