The battle of the two Toms in New Jersey’s 7th Congressional District is intensifying and the outcome of the election could be determined by how voters, especially women, feel about President Donald Trump and his handling of the Coronavirus pandemic and demands for racial justice across the country.
Incumbent Democratic Congressman Tom Malinowski, a former Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy in the Obama administration, is facing off against New Jersey State Senator Tom Kean, Jr., a mild-mannered legislator and the son of a beloved New Jersey Governor. Kean, Jr., and Malinowski have been waging an intense war against each other on the airwaves, with Kean, Jr., going as far as falsely labeling Malinowski as someone who protects child sexual predators. In the end, though, many political analysts believe the Republican politician’s desperate approach is likely to backfire and that voters in the district will focus on the elephant in the room, Trump.
“He’s more like the blue whale or woolly mammoth,” how Patrick Murray, the Director of Monmouth University Poll, describes Trump.
In 2018, Murray polled New Jersey districts and says the 7th, one of the wealthiest in the state, stood out because of the strength of its anti-Trump sentiments in a district that had consistently voted Republican over the years.
“New Jersey’s 7th District is the epitome of that suburban district that flipped in the blue wave two years ago and the reason why is because of all these moderate, college-educated voters, mainly women, who were just unhappy with the direction the Republican Party had taken under Donald Trump,” Murray added.
Murray doesn’t believe 2020 has changed the minds of these voters but instead cemented their feelings, as they listen to Trump’s claims the suburbs are under threat.
“This is fear-mongering,” Murray said. “Counterproductive to Republicans doing any better in this country this year than they did two years ago.”
The district covers all of Hunterdon County, and parts of Morris, Essex, Union, Warren and Somerset Counties.
Ironically, the district’s home to Trump’s golf course and vacation retreat, and it could stand as a constant reminder to voters who don’t like him of just how much Trump has changed the Republican Party. In the Trump era, candidates from both parties are being forced to pick a side, sitting on the fence could mean falling flat on their faces. It could be why Kean, Jr., for years regarded as a soft-spoken gentleman just like his father Tom Kean, Sr., has been touting Trump voters and attended the President’s New Jersey rally in Wildwood. Kean, Jr., who appears to be running on his dad’s legacy, has even dropped “junior” from his name in political ads. We tried to get some answers from Kean, Jr.’s, campaign several times but no one has responded. We asked Murray to provide some insight since he’s spent his career polling New Jersey voters.
“Voters who have rejected the Republican Party because of Donald Trump and decided they’re going to vote for Malinowski are not going to be swayed by fond memories of Tom Kean (Senior),” Murray said. “These are voters who say the party has gone too far and is no longer the party of Tom Kean.”
As for Malinowski, while his campaign responded to our email requesting an interview, we still haven’t been able to talk to him. During a recent virtual debate, Malinowski said Kean, Jr.’s, accusation that he lobbied against a 2006 bill creating a National Sex Offender Registry is inaccurate. The freshman Democrat said at the time he was the director of Human Rights Watch in Washington, D.C., and that his name appeared on bill-related lobbying reports that listed the names of everyone in the organization.
In recent political ads, though, Kean, Jr., has been tapping into long-held beliefs by some voters in the 7th that Democrats will over tax them, calling Malinowski “a liberal who wants to raise your payroll taxes.” However, Kean, Jr., hasn’t been that vocal about pushing fellow Republicans to repeal the cap on the state and local tax (SALT), which was taken away from states like New Jersey and New York during Trump’s first year in office. Even though Kean, Jr., says he supports reinstating SALT, InsiderNJ reports he recently held a fundraiser with former Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, the man responsible for shredding those deductions. Homeowners in New Jersey are already beleaguered by high property taxes and deductions for some could help offset those costs, especially during the Coronavirus crisis, where many find themselves on unemployment. During the pandemic, New York’s U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and Long Island Congressman Tom Souzzi (D-Long Island/Queens) announced a plan to repeal SALT in the stimulus package but Schumer admits it’s been an uphill battle. Malinowski has said in ads he’s making the bread-and-butter issue the cornerstone of his 2020 campaign. In 2019, the Democratic Congressman demanded the tax deductions be fully reinstated during testimony before the House Ways and Means Committee.
Forty percent of voters in the 7th Congressional District are registered as Independents, while 30 percent are Republican and 30 percent, Democrat. While those numbers in years past may have made it difficult to predict the outcome of the race, Malinowski is betting on voter disapproval of Trump. As for Kean, Jr., at this point in the game, he may have no choice but to play his Trump card and let the chips fall where they may.