Former Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-Ringoes) will not seek a return to Congress next year in a rematch with the Republican who unseated him in 2022.
“It was the greatest honor of my life to represent you in Congress. And I believe strongly that a Democrat can and will win the seat next year,” Malinowski said. “But that is a mountain I have climbed before and I am looking forward to climbing many new ones.
Malinowski has begun informing key Democrats that he has decided against a third consecutive run against Rep. Thomas Kean, Jr. (R-Westfield), several Democratic leaders have told the New Jersey Globe.
He had been widely viewed as the front-runner for the nomination if he wanted it.
“I’m so grateful to everyone who tirelessly volunteered to change the politics of our district and the course of our country over the last six years. Together, we built an incredible family of Democrats, Independents, and moderate Republicans who support common sense solutions to our country’s problems while fiercely defending its democratic principle,” said Malinowski. “Our family will endure. So will our accomplishments, from rebuilding infrastructure, to restoring manufacturing, to lowering drug prices, protecting access to health care, and making America the world’s clean energy leader. Our current representative will waste his remaining days in Congress failing to repeal them.
With Malinowski now out of the race, the race for the Democratic nomination in New Jersey’s 7th district is now wide open. Flipping the seat in 2024 is a top priority for national Democrats as they seek to win back the House.
Sue Altman, the state director of New Jersey Working Families and a political ally of Gov. Phil Murphy, could emerge as a leading candidate to take on Kean.
Former State Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D-Elizabeth) has also been mulling a campaign against Kean.
Other potential candidates have already declined to take on Kean, including Assemblyman Roy Freiman (D-Hillsborough), former Deputy U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Jim Johnson, and Matt Klapper, the chief of staff to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland and former chief of Staff to U.S. Senator Cory Booker.
“There’s still a lifetime’s worth of work to be done to build on our gains. Much more effort will be needed to protect our freedoms, from New Jersey all the way to Ukraine,” stated Malinowski. “Whatever the future brings for me, I will stay in that fight and help anyone who joins it.”
Malinowski rode a Trump mid-term Democratic wave in 2018 to unseat five-term Rep. Leonard Lance (R-Clinton Township) with 52% of the vote, and then won his second term against Kean, the minority leader of the New Jersey State Senate, by just one percentage point.
In seeking to shore up other districts, New Jersey Democrats approved a map that made the 7th district more favorable to Republicans. Kean unseated Malinowski by 8,691 votes, 51%-49%, last fall.
There had been signs in recent weeks that he would not run again. He has taken down his YouTube site and campaign website.
The former congressman has recently signed on as a fellow at the McCain Institute and as a board member of Radio Free Europe.
The last defeated former New Jersey congressman to regain his seat was Elmer Wene (D-Vineland), who lost a 1938 re-election bid and then won a rematch with the Republican who beat him, Walter Jeffries (R-Margate) in 1940.
“Congressman Kean has hit the ground running for his constituents. Each day he is fighting to make New Jersey more affordable, secure the border, and work across the aisle to find bipartisan, common-sense solutions to our national challenges,” said Harrison Neely, Kean’s campaign strategist. “It is the responsible leadership his constituents deserve and why he will be successful in 2024 — whoever the opponent may be.”
This story was updated at 5:52 PM with comment from Neely.