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Former Burlington County Freeholder Kate Gibbs is actively exploring a bid for the Republican nomination for Congress against Rep. Andy Kim (D-Marlton) in New Jersey’s 3rd district, according to four sources familiar with the fledgling campaign.
Kim is considered one of the top GOP targets nationally, as long as Republicans come up with a strong candidate. Gibbs is considered a top-tier recruit for Republicans.
The 33-year-old Gibbs has strong ties to the state’s building trades union, which also backed Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-Toms River) for re-election last year. She works for the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 825, one of the state’s most politically influential labor unions.
Burlington County Republican Chairman Sean Earlen applauded Gibbs’ interest in running for Congress.
“Kate Gibbs was born and raised in South Jersey by a single Mom, put herself through school, and as a millennial woman has become a force in the building trades. She’s is the anti-AOC, and someone who I’m glad to see seriously considering this run,” Earlen told the New Jersey Globe. “Andy Kim is the accidental Congressman and we will remedy that in November 2020.”
She was widely viewed as a casualty of the blue wave that dominated the 2018 mid-term elections for Democrats, rather than a rejection of Gibbs. Burlington has been trending towards the Democrats for the last decade,
“She cut taxes twice and lost to a guy who beat up his wife,” said one Republican official who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Gibbs lost by 9,550 votes to Democrat George Youngkin, who had dropped out of the race in September after a Burlington County Times story revealed that he had been arrested for attempting to choke his ex-wife and for stalking another woman.
The 3rd district is one of the most politically competitive in the state, with 10,627 more Democrats than Republicans. President Donald Trump won the district by six points, 51%-45%, in 2016.
Kim, a former Obama White House staffer, defeated MacArthur by just 3,973 votes in 2018 – the closest House race in the state.
Since taking office in January, Kim has raised more than $1.1 million and has nearly $1 million cash-on-hand, without taking any corporate PAC money.
As a first-time candidate in the 2018 mid-term elections, Kim raised $6,230,916 – significantly more than MacArthur, who self-funded his first race, who brought in $4,778,480.
Gibbs was in Washington this week to attend the Operating Engineers’ National Legislative Conference and broke away to meet with the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) to discuss a possible challenge to Kim.
National Republicans have been aggressively recruiting women candidates to take on Democratic incumbents.
During her three years as a freeholder, Gibbs promoted equal pay for women and led the push to require all county employees to receive training to combat sexual harassment.
Gibbs would almost certainly have the support of Burlington Republicans if she runs, but it is not immediately clear if Ocean County Republicans have made any commitments.
One potential candidate, former Ocean County GOP Finance Chairman Frank Sadeghi, had been mulling a campaign against Kim but instead decided to run for county chairman following the resignation of George Gilmore. Sadeghi lost by 25 votes.
The district is 58% Burlington County and 42% Ocean County. In 2018, Burlington cast 59% of the votes in the race for Congress.
Kim won Burlington by 34,630 votes (59.5%-39.9%), while MacArthur carried Ocean by 30,657 votes (60.9%-37%).
In Willingboro, the biggest Democratic stronghold in the 3rd district, Kim won 91% of the vote, out polling MacArthur by 11,325 votes
Kim carried politically competitive municipalities like Cinnaminson (by 690 votes), Evesham (by 2,960 votes) and Pemberton Township (by 1,126 votes).
The 3rd district hasn’t re-elected a Democratic congressman since Nathan Stratton won a second term in 1852.
Democrats won the seat in 2008, when John Adler (D-Cherry Hill) won following the retirement of twelve-term Rep. Jim Saxton (R-Bordentown). Adler lost ex-NFL star Jon Runyan two years later.
MacArthur won the seat in 2014 after Runyan decided he’d had enough of Washington.