Thomas H. Kean, Jr. formally launched his bid for Congress in New Jersey’s 7th district on Wednesday, setting up a rematch with two-term Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-Ringoes) in what may be among the most closely-watched House races of the 2022 mid-terms.
Press play to hear a narrated version of this story, presented by AudioHopper.
“I am a firm believer that public service can make a difference and I want to fight for a better future for New Jerseyans,” Kean said.
Kean, the minority leader of the New Jersey State Senate, came within 1% of unseating Malinowski last year. He opted not to seek a seventh term in the Senate this year to concentrate on his House bid.
Malinowski’s win was the closest for any House Democratic incumbent in the nation. His election night lead narrowed from 28,412 to 5,311 after two weeks of vote counting. The incumbent won by a little more than a single point.
For Malinowski, the last few months have been difficult. He’s facing multiple ethics complaints over his late disclosures of more than 100 stock trades he made, and his personal finances have become a national news story as focus begins to turn toward next year’s federal elections.
Now Malinowski has directed his broker to stop trading stocks as he awaits approval by the Ethics Committee on a move to put his assets in a blind trust. Even so, it’s become a campaign issue — and one that Kean signaled he intends to focus on.
“I’m running for this seat because I truly believe that public service, when approached with pure intentions, is what makes a community come together and thrive,” he said. “What we have representing us right now is just the opposite — it’s self-service.”
Kean chose to eschew a large public announcement and was joined by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy for Kean’s first major fundraising event. Kean and McCarthy will appear on the New Jersey Globe Power Hour on Talk Radio 77 WABC on Saturday.
McCarthy’s personal endorsement — the National Republican Congressional Committee doesn’t take sides in GOP primaries — sends a strong signal that Kean is their choice to take on Malinowski.
But Democrats are already trying to make a campaign issue out of trying Kean to McCarthy, much like Kean attacked Malinowski last year for voting with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi 99% of the time.
“I had thought that on his 4th run for Congress, my perennial opponent might finally find his own voice,” Malinowski said on Twitter this morning. “Instead, he’s standing from day 1 with the man leading his party’s surrender to the riot-denying, election-nullifying, vaccine-disparaging, New Jersey-shortchanging far right.”
Malinowski argued that if Kean and a few more Republicans had won in 2020, McCarthy would be Speaker.
“Imagine that,” he said. “We’d have no funding for Gateway or NJ Transit, no hope for the SALT deduction, no pandemic aid to our small towns — meaning higher property taxes.”
Entering the race in July will allow Kean to post fundraising numbers for the next two quarters while the New Jersey Congressional Redistricting Commission redraws twelve House districts for next year’s election.
As Senate Minority Leader, Kean was able to directly appoint two of the six Republicans on the panel. The other four seats were filled by Kean allies: Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick, who is seeking Kean’s open Senate seat, and former Republican State Chairman Doug Steinhardt.
Kean’s top political advisor, Harrison Neely, is the executive director of the map-drawing commission for the Republicans.
The current 7th district, which includes parts of Union, Somerset, Essex, Warren, Morris and all of Hunterdon, was drawn to elect a Republican congressman.
In 2012, the 7th had 29,997 more Republicans than Democrats. Now the district has 11,132 more Democrats than Republicans.
The same district also gave Joe Biden a 55%-43% win over Donald Trump in the presidential race. In 2016, Hillary Clinton won it by one point, 48%-47%, but in 2012, Mitt Romney carried it, 53%-47%.
The 52-year-old Kean is the scion of New Jersey’s most famous political family. His father served two terms as governor, his grandfather spent 20 years in Congress, and his great-grandfather was a U.S. Senator. Kean’s great-great-great-great grandfather, John Kean, served as a member of the Continental Congress.
Kean is the second Republican to formally announce his candidacy in the 7th district. Rik Mehta, a former U.S. Food and Drug Administration official who ran for U.S. Senate against Cory Booker last year, is already seeking to take on Malinowski.
Phil Rizzo, a real estate developer-turned-pastor who sought the GOP nomination for governor last month, is also considered a potential candidate.
The decision by Kean to embrace McCarthy isn’t just bad optics politically, Malinowski said.
“It’s about the bad outcomes for New Jersey and the country if the radical wing of the GOP that his campaign enables returns to power in Washington,” he said. “It crystallizes what’s at stake for us in 2022.”
Malinowski, 55, served as Assistant U.S. Secretary of State in the Obama administration. He challenged five-term Rep. Leonard Lance (R-Clinton Township) in 2018 and won by 16,100 votes in the Trump mid-term election.
The controversy over Malinowski’s stock trades hasn’t hurt his fundraising.
Malinowski raised more than $815,000 in the 2nd quarter of 2021 — and over $1.7 million this year — giving him $1.4 million cash-on-hand.
In 2020, Malinowski raised about $7.5 million, while Kean raised about $3.9 million.
There is no love lost between Kean and Malinowski, who engaged in a bitter fight over a seat that had been held by Republicans for 62 years before
In 2020, national Republicans hammered Malinowski for lobbying against the creation of national sex offender registry while heading the Washington office of Human Rights Watch in 2006.
But individuals who worked at Human Rights Watch between 2003 and 2007 told the New Jersey Globe last year that Malinowski was not involved in lobbying against the bill.
A 2007 report published by Human Rights Watch on sex offender laws in the United States acknowledged the participation of fourteen people affiliated with the organization as taking part in the preparation and writing, including Corinne Carey, a researcher for the organization’s U.S. program, and Jamie Fellner, now the organization’s U.S. director. Malinowski’s name was not included.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee accused Kean of “choosing wealthy Trenton insiders like himself over New Jersey’s working families.”
“Tom Kean Jr. is not even pretending to be on the sane and moderate side of his party,” said James Singer, a DCCC spokesman. “He is hitching his good family name to radical partisans desperate to hand Washington back to Donald Trump. New Jersey voters have always rejected Kean and his backward priorities and will for a fourth time next year.”
This story was updated with additional comment from Kean at 3:34 p.m.