BRIDGEWATER – One sign said simply, “Where is Junior?”
Other signs – and speakers – made similar cracks about Thomas H. Kean Jr., the newly-elected congressman from CD-7 in central and western Jersey.
Kean ousted Democrat Tom Malinowski last fall, the only congressional candidate in the state to “flip” a district. That was not a total surprise, given the fact the district became more Republican when boundaries were redrawn after the 2020 Census.
However, throughout the campaign, some observers faulted Kean for avoiding public events and refusing many media interviews. That pattern has continued with Kean in Washington.
And that sparked a rally Tuesday morning alongside Route 22 by Democrats and like-minded groups. About 100 people attended.
A number of speakers called on Kean to hold a “town hall” and in general, lambasted conservative policies, especially in regard to women’s rights and gun control.
“He is hiding from us,” said Sue Altman, the executive director of the New Jersey Working Families Alliance.
Town halls can be contentious, but Altman said, “You know what, that’s part of the job.”
Another speaker with an apparent affinity for math said Kean’s been in office for 100 days now, and “it’s time” for a town hall.
Broadly speaking, all members of Congress do not hold town halls – public forums in which lawmakers take unfiltered questions from the audience.
But Malinowski by his count held about 140 of them during his four years in office, including a farewell event after losing reelection. So the contrast here is quite real.
Kean has not helped himself in this regard.
A while back, he put up a Facebook post about a successful “telephone town hall.” But the event was not publicized in advance and his spokesman did not respond to questions about how it was organized and who was invited. Kean’s office did not comment on today’s rally.
Aside from no town halls, Kean’s office does not routinely publicize his “public” events, most of which are hardly controversial. This is unusual for a member of Congress.
Which brings us to an interesting point.
Kean’s strategy of not engaging the public – or media – in dialogue hardly seems coincidental. In fact, it plays well with his base, many of whom dislike the media.
Dating back to last fall’s campaign, most of those griping about Kean’s incommunicado ways were the media and voters who probably were not going to support him anyway.
So, why bother engaging with a segment of the public that probably would give him a hard time?
Or in other words, Kean probably lost no Republican votes last year by not having genuine public events. And the guess here is that he may not lose any in 2024 either.
But at the same time, next year’s election is a totally different animal from 2022. There are always many more voters in a presidential year and it can be hard to figure out what people who vote only once in four years are going to do.
Still, CD- 7, as we said, leans Republican. At last look, it has about 16,000 more Republicans than Democrats. That’s not an overwhelming advantage, but an advantage still the same.
How did it get that way?
That’s how the Democrats wanted it. Remember that it was the Democrats’ map that was accepted by the tie-breaking member of the state redistricting commission back in late 2021.
Kean is enjoying success in a district the Dems created. There’s some political irony for you.