The New Jersey Seventh Congressional District Contest: The Redistricting Conundrum – The challenge facing Dan Scharfenberger

Tom Kean

The New Jersey Congressional redistricting process has been completed, and the final result is the virtually certain retention by the incumbent political party of every seat in the New Jersey US House of Representatives delegation, with the exception of the Seventh District.  Control of that seat will be decided by a contest between the incumbent Democratic Congressman Tom Malinowski and the likely Republican primary winner, former State Senate Republican leader Tom Kean, Jr.

In many ways, the. Malinowski-Kean race will be a microcosm of the national midterm campaigns for control of the House and Senate.  In this regard, two questions are paramount.  First, what will be the impact of the redistricting?  Second, which party is more likely to turn out its voters?

At first glance, the redistricting appears to have vastly increased the chances of Republican Kean unseating Malinowski in the 2022 elections. In the 2020 campaign, Kean only lost to Malinowski by one point in a district Joe Biden carried by 10 points.  This time, Kean will be running in a reconstituted district that Biden only won in 2020 by four points, still a Democratic lean in 2022, but much less than in 2020.

This reduction in Democratic base voters, in brief, is the conundrum of the redistricting facing the Malinowski campaign.

Yet there is a conundrum created by the redistricting that may significantly hamper the Kean campaign.  Warren and Sussex counties are fire engine-red political venues. Twenty – four Warren-Sussex towns have been added to the Seventh by the new 2022 redistricting.

The newly arrived to the Seventh District Warren-Sussex Republicans from these 24 towns (hereinafter, the “Warren-Sussex GOP newcomers”) are among the most inflexible right-wing, socially conservative and Trumpist voters in New Jersey.  The Warren-Sussex newcomers may acutely restrict Kean’s ability to move to the center in order to appeal to potential Democratic crossover voters.

Malinowski
Malinowski

And such a move to the center may be an absolute necessity for Kean.  His record on abortion and guns creates a major vulnerability for him with women voters of both political parties, and his total acquiescence in Trumpism over the past four years could alienate both Democratic men and women.

The Warren-Sussex GOP newcomers pose two dangers to the Kean, Jr. candidacy if he moves to the center.  They can vote for one of Kean’s Republican primary challengers, although it is highly unlikely that he will lose. Assuming that Kean wins the primary, while they certainly will not defect to Malinowski, they could very possibly decide to not vote for either Congressional candidate.

As of now, the Republican cognoscenti in New Jersey tend to discount any necessity for a Kean, Jr. move to the center.  They base this on the conventional wisdom that accords a likely significantly higher than usual turnout of GOP base voters, obviating a need for a Kean centrist move.

Indeed, the turnout in midterm elections is normally higher in the party that does not control the White House.  This historical trend presages a larger than normal Republican turnout in Congressional District Seven and hence, a comfortable Kean victory.

There is another factor promoting a larger Kean GOP turnout.  There is a far greater degree of enthusiasm among Kean voters than Malinowski supporters. This is largely due to the Kean family heritage, which is indeed the gold standard of integrity, competence, and adherence to trends of democracy in New Jersey politics. This is a solid factor promoting Kean enthusiasm, especially as compared with the rather colorless Malinowski.

Yet this conventional wisdom perspective on turnout ignores a very salient problem for the Kean campaign.  His negative record on abortion choice alluded to above may spark a significantly larger than usual midterm turnout of Democratic women, determined to vote against Kean and for choice.  The likelihood of such a high pro-choice motivated anti-Kean turnout could increase astronomically if the US Supreme Court reverses Roe v. Wade before the election.

So the decision as to whether Kean will move to the center involves a risk assessment: What is the greater risk – 1) a higher Democratic vote motivated by a desire to repudiate Kean’s anti-choice, pro-NRA, pro-Trump record; 2) the departure from Kean of a significant share of the Republican base, due to a move to the center on his part?

Enter Dan Scharfenberger, Kean Campaign Manager.

Dan Scharfenberger, the son of Republican Assemblyman Gerard Scharfenberger is in my view the prime young talent among New Jersey Republican political operatives.  He is a graduate of what I describe figuratively as the Joseph Kyrillos School of Political Talent.

The former State Senator Joe Kyrillos was the finest mentor of young Republican talent I have observed in my thirty years of full-time involvement in New Jersey politics.  Among the alumni of this figurative school are the young ascending star in the GOP firmament (and brother-in-law of Dan Scharfenberger) Middletown Mayor Tony Perry, the highly respected GOP attorney Brian Nelson, and the renowned GOP communications expert Jeanette Hoffman.

Next month is the fiftieth anniversary of the premiere of one of my two all-time favorite movies, The Godfather, the other being Casablanca.  To use a Godfather phrase, Dan Scharfenberger “made his bones” in the 2021 election with his winning performance as the Executive Director of New Jersey Senate Republican Majority.  Among a myriad of his other political skills, Dan proved to be a master of election demographics.

It is indeed this demographic skill that will be critical to Dan in making his risk assessment regarding a Tom Kean, Jr. move to the center. His assessment will be the major consideration in whatever recommendation he makes to Kean.

Keep your eye on Dan Scharfenberger.

Next installment in a four-part series: Kean’s abortion and guns record: Its impact on women voters

Alan J. Steinberg served as regional administrator of Region 2 EPA during the administration of former President George W. Bush and as executive director of the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission.

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One response to “The New Jersey Seventh Congressional District Contest: The Redistricting Conundrum – The challenge facing Dan Scharfenberger”

  1. Did I read this too quickly? I found no mention of Congressional wanna-be, Tom Kean Jr.’s involvement with CRT (Critical Race theory)

    In my book that is an automatic disqualification.

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