CHESTER – Political junkies in CD-7 are already musing about a Kean-Malinowski rematch next year.
OK, it’s not Ali-Frazier II, but consider:
Tom Kean Jr. lost last year by less than 5,000 votes and incumbent Tom Malinowski, assuming he runs again, is saddled with a House Ethics Committee investigation into stock trades he didn’t promptly disclose. So, this can be a marquee match in the 2022 midterms.
Not so fast, says Rik Mehta.
Mehta, the 2020 Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, is now eying the CD-7 seat. Mehta lives in Chester, Morris County, and is co-founder of Lactiga, a biotech firm. The district spans six counties in western and central Jersey and now has about 11,000-plus more registered Dems than Republicans.
In a chat this week at a local diner, Mehta, the first Indian-American to win a U.S. Senate primary in New Jersey, said he’s proud of what he accomplished last year.
“It set the stage for building a (political) infrastructure,” he says.
Mehta got about 1.8 million votes, which he proudly says is the most any Republican Senate candidate has ever gotten in New Jersey.
Here comes the caveat.
Turnout last year, propelled as it was by mail-in voting, was enormous. With so many people voting, Mehta’s 1.8 million votes were still about 700,000 short of Cory Booker’s total.
More importantly, it may be impossible for the state to come anywhere close to that type of turnout in the near future.
Mehta doesn’t seem swayed by that, saying he ran a campaign mostly devoted to promoting small business and that many voters responded, despite the fact he was a relative unknown going up against an established figure fresh off a presidential campaign.
Primaries often come down to endorsements, the “county line,” and who donors like.
Kean, by virtue of his background, not to mention the fact he almost won last year, seems destined to do well in that regard.
Mehta counters by talking about the “grassroots.”
He says the endorsements he’s most concerned with are from the family who runs a downtown pizzeria or barber shop.
“Those are the people who believe in me,” he says.
Drawing an obvious contrast with Kean, Mehta says the average guy can relate to him, as “someone who did not grow up with money.”
There are questions to be sure about Mehta’s looming challenge to Kean.
But there are no questions – at least from Mehta – about Malinowski.
Mehta doesn’t even think the Democrat should stay around to seek reelection.
Commenting on the investigation into Malinowski’s stock trades, Mehta said, “He doesn’t represent the values we have in New Jersey, he should resign.”