Every politician likes to say that their race is highly competitive; that it’s a bellwether; that it, more than any election, is what you should be paying attention to. This cycle, it looks like Rep. Andy Kim (D-Moorestown) and Republican Bob Healey can say so truthfully about their 3rd congressional district race.
Kim, a Democrat first elected in 2018 after years in the U.S. State Department, was given a safer district by the Congressional Redistricting Commission and is a formidable incumbent in his own right. But Healey, the CEO of Viking Yachts, has made what could have been a snooze into a very real race, aided by millions in self-funding and national dissatisfaction with Democrats in Washington.
With only three days left until Election Day and more than 70,000 votes already cast in the 3rd district, both candidates have hit the campaign trail hard to deliver their message in the campaign’s closing days.
From the very start of his campaign, Healey has hammered Kim on a few key issues: inflation, crime, education. Kim may talk a big game, Healey argues, but the congressman and his party have completely failed to address the things voters are actually focused on.
“They’ve had two years of one-party rule in this country, and they haven’t done a thing to make any of those three things better,” Healey said this morning at a volunteer event in Hamilton. “Right now, they are offering and have offered zero solutions. That’s the reason why we’re going to win.”
Kim, meanwhile, has stuck to the high-minded rhetoric that has already won him two terms in a competitive district: that he’ll be a leader who both delivers on kitchen table issues and who embodies a kinder, more service-minded method of governance.
“I refuse to believe that my kids are doomed to grow up in a divided America,” Kim told his volunteers today at an event in Lawrence. “I refuse to believe that they are doomed to just experience what we’re experiencing, and that this is just going to be what it’s like for the rest of their life. I believe we can heal this country.”
Both Hamilton and Lawrence are new to the 3rd district this cycle, something that’s been a major factor in both candidates’ campaigns. The more than 300,000 Mercer and Monmouth County voters added on the new congressional map are more Democratic than the Ocean County voters who were removed – something that clearly boosts Kim but also means he’s not an established figure in many of the district’s towns.
Whether the new parts of the district, particularly the huge and swingy suburb of Hamilton, take to Kim will be seen in a few days. Kim said that in his experience campaigning this year, his new potential constituents are excited to vote for him.
“I’ll tell you, the response has been phenomenal in terms of that hunger for a new kind of politics: a politics that’s grounded in public service, a politics that’s about getting things done, being a workhorse and not a showhorse,” he said. “I think people here really love that kind of approach, so hopefully I’ll have the chance to be able to represent them.”
In large part because of the new congressional map, most observers didn’t see Kim as especially vulnerable at the beginning of the cycle; his Burlington County-based district had voted for Joe Biden by 14 points and for Gov. Phil Murphy by just under two points. Kim also has a record of overperforming the top of the ticket, flipping a Trump-won district in 2018 and outrunning Biden by eight points in 2020.
The strength of Healey’s campaign, however, has pushed the race into the competitive column. The Cook Political Report moved the district from Likely Democratic to Lean Democratic last week, for example, and both nominees are spending heavily to get their message out.
Healey and Kim each brought out some major assisting players at their events today, further evidencing the closeness of the contest. Murphy spoke at Kim’s event in Lawrence, while his erstwhile foe, former Republican gubernatorial nominee Jack Ciattarelli, stumped for Healey in Marlton.
The 3rd district race has been more polite than many others around New Jersey, and certainly more so than others around the country. But that doesn’t mean, of course, that Healey and Kim haven’t found avenues of attack against one another.
For Healey, his most persistent criticism of Kim is that the congressman has not bucked his party when he needed to for his 3rd district constituents. Healey’s message is that if Kim was more willing to stand up to Democratic leaders on issues like crime and the state and local tax (SALT) deduction, the 3rd district would have been better off.
Kim said today, however, that Healey’s argument isn’t supported by the facts of his voting record.
“My opponent tries to cherry-pick the numbers, but if you actually look at all the substantive votes I’ve done this Congress, 93% of my votes were bipartisan votes,” he said. “I was named by the Lugar Center, which looks at bipartisanship, as one of the most bipartisan members in Congress.” (Kim is the 46th-most bipartisan member of the House, according to the center.)
Kim, on the other hand, has gone after Healey on the issue of abortion – Healey calls himself pro-life but says he wouldn’t support federal abortion restrictions – and on Healey’s family wealth. Of the $7 million spent to boost Healey so far, $2.2 million has come directly from himself and another $3.2 million from a super PAC funded by his mom.
Asked today whether voters should be concerned about that much self-funding, Healey redirected the question to instead blast Kim for taking donations from the New Jersey Education Association. When pressed, Healey said that his campaign had made connections with many donors.
“We’ve done a lot of small-dollar house parties, and we’ve done a lot of fundraisers – there’s been a lot of voters there,” he said. “I’m proud of the campaign that we’ve run, I’m proud of the people that have come out, I’m proud of the volunteers we have.”
As candidates are wont to do, Kim and Healey each closed out the events today with confidence, telling volunteers that their hard work can deliver a win.
“If we show folks who we are; if we open our hearts to them; if we talk to them honesty and raw emotion; if we talk to them about who we are and why we do what we do, I believe … we will win on Tuesday,” Kim said.
“On November 8, around 11 or 12 o’clock, Andy Kim’s going to call me and let me know what State Department job he got,” Healey said. “Because he’s not going to be in Congress anymore.”