Republican Assemblyman Erik Peterson (LD-23) has announced that he will seek the nomination for congress, hoping to oust Democrat Congressman Tom Malinowski and represent CD-7 in Washington, DC. For the 55-year-old arch-conservative to secure the nomination, he will need to come up victorious in a crowded primary against Senator Thomas Kean, Jr., John Flora who serves as the mayor of Fredon, Henry Isemann, and Rik Mehta, former US senate candidate who came up short against Senator Cory Booker.
Peterson’s candidacy announcement came in the form of a video, seated with his wife and children. Peterson said that he has made Hunterdon County his home for 31 years. His political resume includes serving as a Hunterdon County freeholder for three years before moving on to the Assembly in 2009 in a special election. The attorney, a graduate of the Temple University School of Law, touted his solid Republican credentials. “During the 12 years that I’ve been in the legislature, I have been a vocal and unwavering Republican voice in Trenton,” Peterson said. “I have the best Republican voting record of anybody in this congressional race.” He pointed to his A rating with “New Jersey Right to Life” and the National Rifle Association.
Peterson made headlines during the Republican protest against the requirement for proof of vaccination or testing for anyone to enter the statehouse in early December. Joined by other Republicans such as Brian Bergen and Jay Webber, Peterson told media that being barred from the chamber by State Troopers for not complying with the health policy was “tyranny” and downplayed the value of vaccines. “We need to follow common sense,” he told media in the crowded lobby, “follow science, and science says the vaccine doesn’t stop you from catching COVID and it doesn’t stop you from transmitting it, so it has absolutely no value to determine whether someone is vaccinated or not vaccinated. The best that the vaccine does, according to the science, is help the individual—maybe—overcome COVID easier. That’s it.”
In Peterson’s announcement, he echoed his position against vaccine mandates and his opposition to Governor Phil Murphy, framing it in constitutional terms. “I was for medical freedom before COVID-19 and Governor Murphy’s mandates, because I strongly believe in the sanctity of the body, and that every person has the right to say no to the government wanting to inject a vaccine or some other substance into their body. I support the Constitution and I will always support the Constitution as the supreme law of our land.”
The vision of America Peterson described in his video was one with strong borders, the realization of the American Dream for those who work hard, and a future for America’s children. “Today, we tell our kids to dream, dream big, and chase after those dreams. Because in America, your dreams can come true. There are people today that say that America no longer exists, that your dreams can’t come true. And for me, that’s unacceptable.”
Should Peterson win, he said he would be “an America-first Republican” pursuing energy independence and a balanced budget, without which will lead to inflation and a burden on future generations. Wrapping up his message, he said, “I’ve stood up to Governor Murphy and the Democrats, and I didn’t back down, and I won’t back down to the Democrats. I won’t back down to anybody who stands in the way of our Republican values in Washington, DC.” Peterson said that those Republican values bring peace and prosperity. “Our shared Republican values are about freedom, and our New Jersey motto says ‘freedom and prosperity’.” (Peterson was slightly off, as the New Jersey state motto is “Liberty and Prosperity,” seen on the state flag.) He concluded by saying that “no matter what the consequences” if given the opportunity to serve, “I can assure you one thing: I will never sell you out. I will always vote like a Republican should, and I’ll stand up for you.”
Peterson’s tone may represent a new brand of messaging for the NJ GOP, which is cautious of direct affiliation with former president Donald Trump while seeking to capitalize on MAGA energy. This comes as Republicans seek to navigate their way forward in a state that returned–albeit by a small margin–one of the nation’s most progressive governors to a second term, looking for an effective balance between “America First” MAGA populism and the more moderate, “Jersey-style Republicanism” as espoused by Jack Ciattarelli and former governor Chris Christie.