Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean formally announced his bid to oust Rep. Tom Malinowski on Tuesday, setting up a tough re-election fight for the first term congressman.
“Right now, America needs a Congress that’s focused on reasonable reforms, and New Jerseyans need someone who will work to get our fair share out of Washington,” Kean said. “This congress is broken. In the past 100 days, the radical progressives have had an excessive impact on the new House of Representatives. This will hurt the economy in ways that will harm the people of the seventh congressional district. Their influence needs to be curbed. Make no mistake: What reform means to them is tax hikes for you.”
Though he made jabs at the progressive wing of the Democratic party, Kean, a five-term veteran of the State Senate, struck a largely bipartisan line in his speech to the Republicans at his campaign kickoff.
Still, while he may not be looking to viciously attack those on the other side of the aisle, he showed little regard for Democratic policy priorities.
He said he opposed socialized healthcare, free college plans and the Green New Deal proposed by some progressive House Democrats.
“Inequality must be addressed,” Kean said. “This will require new laws, not the abandonment of the American principles that we value. We simply cannot sit by as D.C. politicians advocate for the rise of policies that history has discarded. We must take action to steer this country in a better direction. today’s leaders must protect tomorrow’s opportunities.”
Kean makes his run with the backing of the party establishment. Five of the district’s six county chairs were present at his campaign kickoff. The only one absent, State and Warren County Republican Chairman Doug Steinhardt, was travelling abroad.
So far, Kean has only one primary opponent, Tom Phillips, a 41-year-old human resources executive from Scotch Plains. Former U.S. Senate staffer Rosemary Becchi has been mentioned as another possible candidate, but with party support going to Kean, it’s not clear if she will choose to mount a bid.
Malinowski, a former assistant secretary of state who was Washington director for Human Rights watch for 12 years, has largely steered clear of advocating for policies pushed by his party’s liberal wing, and perhaps for good reason.
“He’s been in Washington D.C. for decades, and he’s part of the status quo,” Kean said when asked about the incumbent during a gaggle following his announcement speech.
Though Malinowski beat five-term Rep. Leonard Lance by 16,200 votes, 52%-47%, last year, Republicans still outnumber Democrats in the seventh congressional district.
The edge has shrunk in recent years, but the GOP holds a 5,066-person edge in voter registration there.
Malinowski’s victory came alongside a wave of Democratic House wins in New Jersey and across the country, largely borne out of a Democratic base animated by President Donald Trump’s first two years in office.
It remains to be seen how Trump will affect Kean’s own congressional bid. The minority leader has largely avoided commenting on the president.
“I think we should all find ways to come together and find solutions for the country. It’s important for the future,” Kean, who was introduced by his father, former Gov. Thomas Kean, said. “It takes people to find the solutions.”