With just days left in the election, candidates in the seventh congressional district are laser-focused on getting out the vote.
Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-Ringoes), a first-term incumbent who entered Congress amid a Democratic wave that saw his party retake the House in 2018, faces a challenge from State Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean (R-Westfield).
The contest in the seventh district has largely been defined by massive amounts of outside spending hammering both candidates.
The National Republican Congressional Committee and the Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC with ties to House Republican leadership, have collectively put a little more than $4.3 million behind ads trafficking a debunked claim that Malinowski lobbied against a national sex offender registry created by a 2006 crime bill during his time as Human Rights Watch’s Washington director.
The ad blitz, which Kean has alternatively kept at arm’s length and embraced, thrust the race into the national spotlight as QAnon, a baseless conspiracy that claims Democrats opposed to President Donald Trump are operating a global child sex trafficking ring, emerged as in issue in the presidential race.
Democratic groups responded in kind. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the House Majority PAC, a super PAC with ties to House leadership, launched $3.8 million worth of ads seeking to tie Kean to President Donald Trump, whose popularity in suburbs has withered since 2016.
With their eyes on Turnout, both campaigns are hitting the streets. The challenger has get-out-the-vote rallies planned in each of the district’s five counties. He’s also continuing to visit small businesses and is canvassing door-to-door with local candidates.
“I am so grateful for the thousands of supporters who have invested in this campaign. This is a campaign that New Jersey believes in because it has been about bringing people together,” Kean said. “Congress is broken and we need more leaders in Washington who will put public service before politics.”
The challenger’s campaign said they’d hit roughly 90,000 doors and made about 322,000 phone calls to voters. The Republican State Committee has sent 18 mailers boosting Kean’s bid.
The incumbent, meanwhile, has phone banks and literature drops in Dover, Union Township and North Plainfield planned through election day.
“We have more active volunteers of any democratic Congressional campaign in the country, and we are making phone calls, knocking on doors, and chasing every vote,” Malinowksi campaign manager Dan Fleiss said.
Both campaigns will stay on the air until then. The challenger is still running two ads highlighting the support of former Gov. Tom Kean, the candidate’s father. It’s not clear what ads Malinowski is running, though they’ll be on television through election day, according to Federal Communication Commission filings.
They’re also still running digital ads. Between Oct. 22 and Oct. 28, Kean spent $12,419 on Facebook and Instagram ads, while the Malinowski put $15,819 behind buys on those platforms.
The incumbent’s digital spend for the cycle dwarfs that of his challenger. He’s put up $209,098 behind such buys since May 2018, though it’s not clear how much of that money was used in his 2018 race against Rep. Leonard Lance (R-Clinton Township). Since launching his campaign, Kean has put up $41,772 in digital ads.
On Friday, Kean had 12 digital ads running, while Malinowski had 37.
The difference in online ad spending is unsurprising given the cash lead the incumbent has held for most of the race.
Through Oct. 15, Malinowski raised a little more than $6.3 million to Kean’s nearly $3.5 million. Those figures make the race the most expensive in the district, even without accounting for the more than $8.4 million in independent expenditures made by outside groups.
The handful of polls on the seventh-district race have shown a close contest there, though the most recent of those polls was released more than six months ago, and most race raters think the district is leaning toward a Malinowski victory.
Early mail-in ballot returns suggest a similar advantage. So far, 39.7% of the ballots returned in the seventh district came from Democratic voters, while Republicans accounted for 32.4% of early returns.
The gap used to be wider, but Republicans began mailing in votes in larger numbers toward the end of October. Unaffiliated voters were the source of 27.9% of returned ballots.