UP – The Party Establishments: Both the Republican and Democratic Parties in the State of New Jersey can claim wins following the 2022 midterm elections. No serious surprises, no chaos—all signs of successfully controlling the situation speak to competent leadership in general. Following redistricting, which adopted the Democratic plan, the State Democratic Party had solidified and protected members of congress such as Mikie Sherrill, Andy Kim, and Josh Gottheimer, with new borders that had stronger Democratic constituencies. Congressman Tom Malinowski did not benefit from this, however, and the new CD7 borders encompassed a larger share of Republican registered voters. As such, the State Democratic Party had engineered a map that would ensure at least a 9-3 Democratic-to-Republican delegation to the US House. Unfortunately for the Democrats, Malinowski fell short to challenger Tom Kean, Jr. Had Malinowski been able to pull it off, a 10-2 delegation—maintaining a pre-2022 supermajority—would have been a bonus for the Democrats, but beyond what had been hoped-for.
The State Republican Party also can claim that it is “up” considering that they flipped a competitive district, installing Kean and increasing the Republican delegation from a fifth to a third. In Cumberland county, Commissioner Douglas Albrecht (R) was re-elected and Victoria Groetsch-Lods (R) beat incumbent Democrat Darlene Barber and Priscilla Ocasio-Jimenez, contributing to the reddening of New Jersey’s south and west.
DOWN – Congressman Tom Malinowski: This was a race that the incumbent lost more than the challenger won. Was Malinowski the sacrificial lamb put on the altar of securing northern and eastern Democratic power? The case could be made. Plagued by allegations of stock misconduct by Republicans, the Democratic power structure found Malinowski—a man who did not organically bubble up from within the bowels of state party power—a candidate they were prepared to let go in the defense of others. Despite a strong ground-game with ardent volunteers and supporters, and despite running a more open and communicative campaign compared to his tight-lipped opponent, Malinowski was unable to overcome Kean a second time in the face of a redder district with Republicans successfully capitalizing on inflation, rising costs, and school curricula worries.
UP – Democratic State Chairman Leroy Jones: All of the chairman’s overall objectives were met and the primary incumbents were protected. The Essex County kingpin saw the solidification of northern and eastern Democratic power as well as the strengthening of potential gubernatorial considerations like Mikie Sherrill or Andy Kim for the post-Murphy years ahead. Losing the south was all but a given, with Tim Alexander and Matt Jenkins beaten by Jeff Van Drew and Chris Smith respectively, but this was accounted for with redistricting. Democratic Congressman Malinowski had been deemed, to term a callous military phrase, an acceptable loss for the greater good of tightening up the gerrymandered powerbase of other congressional Democrats. Had he defeated Kean it would have been icing on the cake, but with no major county or urban upsets, Chairman Jones led the State Democratic party to an unquestionably firm and secure position with deep trenches and dense barbed wire when the votes were finally tallied.
DOWN – Passaic County GOP Chairman Peter Murphy: In the 2021 election, the Passaic County Republicans managed to finally crack the blue brick wall that was the Freeholder Board. In a very tight race, Nicolino Gallo was able to punch through the seemingly impregnable Democratic fortress that John Currie had built and displaced incumbent Assad Akhter, becoming the only Republican to survive storming the breach by a margin of less than 100 votes. Many expected a Red Wave where “Had Enough? Vote Republican” signs dotted Passaic County’s suburbs and few community events were held anywhere in the county without Republicans Maher, Cruz, and Oswald making an appearance. Launching one of the strongest Republican ground games in some time, the Republicans nevertheless were unable to build on the progress of the previous year and fell before the walls manned by incumbent Democrats Sheriff Richard Berdnik and Commissioners Pat Lepore and Terry Duffy.
UP – Congressman Andy Kim: Having come out the winner of an intense race in CD3 with Republican challenger Bob Healey by about 11 points, Kim is now positioned to be the progressive standard bearer for New Jersey as Governor Phil Murphy approaches the last half of his second and final term as the state’s chief executive. With Congressman Tom Malinowski’s departure, Kim may find himself able to capitalize as the champion of the party’s left wing, safely doing so perhaps at the expense of the mossy party machinery in the state as well as in Washington DC. Healey had tried to characterize Kim as a Pelosi clone, but Kim’s record demonstrates himself as more of a purist. With a background in the executive branch during the Obama years as a national security advisor, the former Rhodes Scholar has taken on financial corruption by aiming to ban members of congress and the president from owning stocks. No parallels could be drawn between Kim and Pelosi or Malinowski pursuing such an agenda. Without the need to walk a tightrope between liberals and conservatives like Josh Gottheimer in deeply purple Bergen County and CD5, Kim has a solid base, a clean background, the protection of the State Democratic Party apparatus, and the credibility of another term to carry the soft-spoken Kim forward more boldly than before.
DOWN – Pollsters: “You know what happens when you assume?” Polls aren’t really assumptions, of course, but they do have to account in some respects for generalizations since only samples of the population can be surveyed. Nevertheless, as scientific as they may be, the polls continue to prove themselves more of a “suggestion” than anything. In 2021, polls predicted a comfortable margin of victory for Governor Phil Murphy, so much so that local Democratic chairmen grumbled about a lack of support and direction from the state level while managing their own campaigns closer to the ground. An appearance by Bernie Sanders was met with eye-rolls from moderate Dems and laughter from Republicans who brought Jack Ciattarelli within a hand’s width of victory. Seeing the pendulum swing the other way, polls predicted a Red Wave that would crash down, spurred by rising prices, inflation, and MAGA revanchism. This did not materialize and, to the surprise of Democrats biting their nails Tuesday night, no major upsets manifested in the Garden State. Once again, the polls demonstrated that the show isn’t over until it really is over and nothing should be taken for granted.
UP – Jack Ciattarelli: While Chairman Bob Hugin may have been unable to conjure a Red Wave which became more of a Blue Save, Jack Ciattarelli and the “mainstream majority” can feel confident following the midterm results. Ciattarelli is, in general, a moderate and the midterm saw no advances for MAGA icons, perhaps with the exception of Trump darling Jeff Van Drew—although as an incumbent this does not represent any seismic change for the status quo. Healey’s campaign against Kim, albeit unsuccessful, was a repudiation of the crude and crass kind of Republicanism fostered by Ian Smith and championed by the likes of Phil Rizzo and Hirsch Singh, whom Ciattarelli defeated in the 2021 Republican Primary and later came within sight of the governor’s chair. The victory of Tom Kean, Jr., over Malinowski means that a man who, for the few times he went on the record, said he supported a woman’s right to choose at least in some circumstances, reaffirms Ciattarelli’s “mainstream” branding as one which could be on the path to future success in a state that has a million more registered Democrats than Republicans. Ciattarelli remains a high-profile Republican and is already committed to running in the 2025 election. With a solid south and respectable Republican performance in the north, Ciattarelli is in a safe position to continue to be the face, if not the actual leader, of New Jersey’s Republican Party.
DOWN – South Jersey Democrats*: With Democratic losses in Cumberland County, crushing victories for Van Drew and Chris Smith, the southern part of New Jersey had reddened notably. For the likes of State Senator Mike Testa, a rising star in the New Jersey State Republican ranks, a “solid south” brings greater security for him and other Republicans to flex their political muscle locally and as a counter to any hope of George Norcross making significant inroads in that part of the state. State Senator Ed Durr’s decapitation of Senate President Steve Sweeney and the State Democratic Party’s near-total retreat from the south in terms of redistricting means that the dwindling garrison of South Jersey Democrats are on their own. The pockets of blue will have to fix bayonets, form square, and abandon any hope of Jones relieving them with a cavalry charge over the hill for their defense in future battles.
*That said, it was a good night for Atlantic City Mayor Marty Small, who successfully fought down the referendum question engineered by longtime local foe Craig Callaway.