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The CD7 race this year features a potential showdown between incumbent U.S. Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-7) and Republican challenger Tom Kean, Jr., the long-serving state senate minority leader.
Kean will have to first endure a Republican Primary, in which Rosemary Becchi and Tom Phillips are running. It is not inevitable, but the combination of establishment support, money and name ID favor Kean to gut through to the general election and a face-off with Malinowski.
The Democrat in 2018 convincingly stared down progressive, Bernie Sanders Democrat Peter Jacob, who in September of last year told InsiderNJ he will not run in 2020. Jacob was the 2016 Democratic Party nominee in the 7th District. Then-incumbent Republican Congressman Leonard Lance beat Jacob.
Malinowski defeated Lance in 2018 to win the seat he now occupies.
If the expected Malinowski-Kean general election matchup ensues, the candidates will battle for the middle of the Central Jersey district and the affections of those independents who in the last election broke in the Democrat’s direction.
The candidates are already laboring to put themselves in a moderate light.
In September of last year, amid GOP attacks on the economic philosophies of Democrats, Malinowski announced that he is not a socialist.
He said that at least twice at today’s town hall.
In fact, he said he was a capitalist.
That may seem like an odd comment but with 2020 on the horizon, Republicans already are doing all they can to label just about all Dems precisely that – socialists.
So as he gets ready to seek re-election for the first time in what had been a very Republican 7th District, it certainly be hooves Malinowski to stay in the middle as much as possible.
His town hall attracted more than 300 people. Interest was so high the venue was moved from the library to a local school.
Many of Malinowski’s public events – and he has had more than a half dozen during the August and now early September recess – attract a supportive audience. This one was no exception, but if Malinowski had the urge to move three steps to the left, he kept it well concealed.
For his part, at his campaign lift-off last year, against the backdrop of an ongoing rupture in the NJGOP between Trump Republicans and their critics, Kean. Jr. made sure to identify himself as “a Kean Republican.” His father, of course, was a two-time, moderate GOp governor in the 1980’s.