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HAMPTON – Tom Malinowski knows it is coming.
“They are gunning for me,” he said at a campaign kickoff Sunday night.
A bit more than 100 Democrats crowded into the Oink and Moo BBQ right off Route 78 in the heart of Hunterdon County to hear Malinowski formally kickoff his campaign for reelection in the 7th District, Malinowski plans “kickoffs” in various spots throughout the district; Sunday was the first one.
The quip about Republicans “gunning” for him is no idle comment.
Republicans see the district in suburban and rural western New Jersey as a great chance to reclaim what long had been reliable GOP turf. State Sen. Thomas H. Kean Jr., is the preferred candidate of the Republican establishment to challenge Malinowski, but Rosemary Becchi, a tax policy lawyer and consultant, is also seeking the nomination. Malinowski won the seat in 2018 against incumbent Leonard Lance by about 16,000 votes.
And the congressman had Lance on his mind. He complimented the often genteel Lance for campaigning as a gentleman, noting that, “Leonard did not cross lines.” Malinowski knows things will be different this time around.
“Fasten your seat belts,” he said. “It’s (the campaign) going to be a lot nastier.”
He said he expects whoever wins the Republican primary to label him a “socialist” who wants to bring “Mexican rapists” into the country.
Republicans these days often call Democrats socialists and the rape reference dates back to Donald Trump’s first speech as a presidential candidate in 2015 when he said Mexico was sending criminals into the United States to create mayhem.
Malinowski also gave a hint as to how he plans to fight back – link his GOP opponent with all that the president does and says. It’s common to hear some New Jersey Republicans say they agree with many of President Trump’s policies, but not with some of his tweets.
Malinowski plans to challenge that distinction. He said his Republican opponent will have to answer for such things as separating children from their parents at the border and for the president’s assertion that there is love in the air between him and Kim Jong-un.
In 2018, Malinowski got 28,000 votes in Hunterdon County. That was 6,000 less than what Lance got, but still, Malinowski said his tally exceeded expectations. And that gives him optimism for this year.
“In some ways, the (Democrats) in Hunterdon County are the most fired up,” he said.