The New Jersey Globe projects that Bob Healey Jr. has won the Republican primary in the 3rd congressional district, defeating Atilis Gym owner Ian Smith. As of 10:50 p.m., Healey had 54% of the vote to Smith’s 36%.
Healey, a former punk rocker who turned a corner in his life and took over the family yacht manufacturing business, always looked like the frontrunner to take on Rep. Andy Kim (D-Moorestown). The choice of both state and national Republicans, he had every county party endorsement as well as a major fundraising advantage, aided by some self-funding.
But Smith, who first gained notoriety in 2020 for his fight against Gov. Phil Murphy’s Covid restrictions, employed Steve Kush – the strategist who guided State Sen. Ed Durr (R-Logan) to his massive upset victory – and made a serious bid for disgruntled Republican voters with deeply conservative stances.
Smith’s campaign was injured in March by his arrest on drunk driving charges, charges that he insinuated had been politically motivated. Healey worked to emphasize Smith’s arrest, as well as his previous conviction for killing a teenager while driving under the influence at age 20, throughout the campaign.
A third Republican candidate, Nicholas Ferrara, never saw his candidacy take off.
In the Democratic primary, Kim faced a minor challenge from Reuven Hendler, a newcomer who tried to upend the Mercer County Democratic Party’s endorsement of Kim. As befits a popular swing-district representative, Kim won easily.
With Healey’s victory, Republicans have their preferred candidate to try and flip the 3rd district, which was made dramatically more Democratic in the congressional redistricting process. Even though the newly drawn district is 14 points more Democratic than the old district that Kim won twice, some Republicans still see an opportunity in this year’s favorable political environment.