Just three years ago, Republicans held five congressional seats in New jersey New Jersey, but in 2019, only Christopher Smith R-Hamilton) of the strongly Republican 4th district remains.
The GOP lost the 5th district in 2016, when Josh Gottheimer (D-Wyckoff) defeated Scott Garrett (R-Wantage), but this was just a tremor, compared to the electoral earthquake that was the 2018 midterms.
The Garden State was one of the epicenters of the 2018 Democratic House Wave, with two incumbents, Frank LoBiondo (R-Ventnor), and Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-Harding) retiring after 24 years in Congress. LoBiondo announced he wouldn’t run again on Election Day 2017 and Frelinghuysen pulled out nearly three months later to avoid a red-hot fight.
The two Republican incumbents who chose to stay and fight it out — Tom MacArthur (R-Toms River), and Leonard Lance (R-Clinton Township) – were swept under the blue wave.
Jeff Van Drew (D-Dennis), Andy Kim (D-Marlton), Tom Malinowski (D-Rocky Hill) and Mikie Sherrill (D-Montclair) were swept into office on a wave of backlash to the attempted Republican repeal of the Affordable Care Act, and the implementation of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which reduced the popular state and local tax deduction (SALT) that which sparked anger in the affluent suburban congressional districts that Republicans held in New Jersey.
New Jersey’s 2nd district had been represented by LoBiondo since 1995. The race to replace him began with a contested GOP Primary which was mainly fought between former Atlantic County Freeholder, Seth Grossman, 2017 gubernatorial candidate, Hirsh Singh, and former Assemblyman Sam Fiocchi (R-Vineland).
Grossman won the primary by a 9% over Singh, who was followed by Fiocchi.
The Democratic primary had a clear frontrunner, in Van Drew, who has served in Trenton first as an Assemblyman, then a Senator from the 1st legislative district since 2002. Van Drew won the primary with 57.0% of the vote, against three Democrats who ran to his left.
After the primary, Grossman gained national attention for controversial comments that some viewed as wildly racist. The state and national GOP withdrew support for his candidacy.
Van Drew won the 2nd district seat by a 7.7% margin against Grossman, defeating him by 19,819 votes. Van Drew, won in part due to a lot of past experiences running in this district, as a large amount of his state district was located in this congressional district, which gave him a high level of name recognition among the voters of the district, compared to Seth Grossman whose experience was limited to Atlantic County.
Atlantic County, which by far counted for the most amount of the vote of any individual county in this large district, accounting for 35% of total votes cast in 2018 in the district, was carried by Van Drew by a 15% margin. Cape May County, which counted for 15.7% of votes cast in the 2nd district, was carried by Van Drew by a margin of 6.32%. The entirety of Cape May County is in the 2nd district and was carried by Donald Trump in 2016 by a large 19.5% margin over Hillary Clinton. Burlington and Camden counties, which combined account for 1.9% of the districts total 2018 votes, were carried by Grossman by a combined margin of 10% over Jeff Van Drew
Cumberland County, which counted for 15.36% of the vote in 2018, was carried by Van Drew by a margin of 20.48%. Gloucester County which counted for 13.5% of the vote, was carried by Van Drew as well but only by a smaller 2.7% margin. Grossman carried both Ocean and Salem counties by a 22.12% margin and a 4.78% margin respectively. Ocean counted for 7% of the district’s 2018 votes, while Salem counted for almost 9% of the votes cast in 2018 in the district.
One of the biggest problems going into 2020 for Van Drew will be running on the same ballot as Trump. Trump carried the 2nd district by 5% in 2016, and won Cape May County by nearly 20%, which means assuming Trump does not crater in 2020 in South Jersey, will be convincing voters to cross party lines and vote for him.
Van Drew has drawn numerous Republican opponents including former Hill International CEO David Richter, who plans on self-funding his campaign. Former Atlantic County Young Republican Chairman Brian Fitzpatrick and Robert Patterson, a controversial former Trump administration official, are also in the race. Brian Glackin, a retired U.S. Navy Captain who ran the Navy’s Appropriations office on Capitol Hill, is also mulling a House bid.
MacArthur, a two-term congressman, was viewed as one of the higher profile targets in New Jersey, due to his involvement in the attempted repeal of the Affordable Care Act.
Just one Democrat stepped forward to challenge MacArthur: former Obama White House staffer Andy Kim, an ex-National Security Council official.
After MacArthur initially lead in the results, after days of counting ballots, Kim pulled ahead and was certified as the winner. Kim defeated MacArthur by a margin of 1.32%, winning by just under 4,000 votes, out of the over 300,000 votes cast in the district. This was the closest House race in New Jersey in 2018, and was one of the closest in the nation, being the 12th closest race nationwide.
Burlington County makes up most of the 3rd district and counted for 58.5% of the votes cast in the 2018 election. Kim carried the portion of the county located in the 3rd district, by a margin of 19.54% over MacArthur, winning the country by a margin of 34,630 votes.
MacArthur carried Ocean County by a margin of 24.4%, but this did not save him from electoral defeat, as Ocean County only counted for 41.5% of votes cast, and this margin was not enough to save him from his defeat in the larger Burlington County portion of the district.
Despite representing one of the closest 2018 seats, and a seat won by Trump in 2016 by 6%, Kim has not yet drawn an announced challenger for his seat. The favorite is former Burlington County Freeholder Kate Gibbs.
If she runs, Burlington County will once again be crucial, as Kim is going to need to keep his margin in it, or raise it, depending on how the Republican performs in Ocean County.
The 7th district was the only Republican held seat in New Jersey that was carried by Hillary Clinton in 2016, and as such, was a top target for the Democrats in 2018 in their effort to retake the House.
Lance had no serious opponents in the Republican Primary and was re-nominated with nearly 75% of the vote.
With Democrats sensing an opportunity, there were at one time eight candidates seeking the nomination to challenge Lance.
Malinowski, a former Assistant U.S. Secretary of State under President Barack Obama, emerged as the front-runner after early victories at Democratic conventions in Hunterdon, Morris and Warren counties and then winning the Union County Democratic Screening Committee by one vote.
The early organizational and fundraising strength of Malinowski pushed all but two challengers out of the race and he won the primary with nearly 67% of the vote.
In the general election, Malinowski defeated Lance by a 5.1% margin, winning the election by 16,400 votes. This was in line with election results across the country, as nearly every Republican incumbent that had a seat that Clinton won, was defeated, with only a few remaining nationwide.
The most important county in the district, Somerset was carried by Malinowski by an 8.5% margin. Somerset counted for 32% of the votes cast in this district in 2018. Malinowski’s town of Rocky Hill is also located within this County. Malinowski won Somerset County by 8,758 votes.
Also important to Malinowski’s victory in 2018 was his 16% win in the Union County portion of the district, which counted for 26% of votes cast within the district. Malinowski won Union County by 13,567 votes. Hunterdon County, which is entirely located within the 7th District, was won by Lance by a 9.6% margin, and counted for 19.5% of votes cast in the district in 2018. Trump carried Hunterdon County in 2018 by a 13.5% margin. Lance won Hunterdon by 5,970 votes.
Morris County voted for Lance by a 4.5% margin in 2018 and counted for 15.2% of votes cast in the district and was won by Lance by 2,162 votes. Warren County was home to Lances strongest 2018 performance, as he won it by 11.26%, but this rural county only counted for 4.2% of votes cast in the district. Lance beat Malinowski in this County by just under 1,500 votes. Essex County, which only counted for 2.8% of votes cast within the district in 2018, was home to Malinowski’s strongest performance in the district in 2018, as he won it by nearly 39% in 2018, despite only carrying it by 3,488 votes.
Out of the four freshman Democratic members of Congress from New Jersey, Tom Malinowski has attracted the strongest 2020 opponent: State Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean Jr, son of former Governor Tom Kean. Kean has represented the 21st legislative district, which has been won by Hillary Clinton, Phil Murphy, and Bob Menendez in recent statewide elections, since 2003.
The Frelinghuysen’s have long been involved in New Jersey politics, having served as Congressman, Senators, and Cabinet Secretaries. Rodney Frelinghuysen, a longtime member of Congress from New Jersey, having first been elected in the 11th district in 1994, and having risen to chair of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, announced at the end of January 2017 that he was retiring, leaving the GOP race in the 11th district wide open.
The Republican primary to replace Frelinghuysen was a contest between Assemblyman Jay Webber, self-funder Peter de Neufville, and Navy JAC officer Antony Ghee.
Webber won the primary with 40.05 of the votes, compared to 30.5% for de Neufville and 21.9% for Ghee.
The Democratic Primary was not seriously contested.
Democrats became infatuated with Mikie Sherill, a former U.S. Navy helicopter pilot and federal prosecutor, and party leaders mostly cleared the field for her. She won the primary with 77.4% of the vote.
Sherill won the general election by a 14.6% margin over Webber, swinging the district by 33% from 2016, the largest such swing nationwide in 2018, and carried every county in the district except for Sussex. She won by a margin of over 47,000 votes.
Morris County, which counted for 50% of the votes cast in the district in 2018, was carried by Sherill by a 10.3% margin. She defeated Webber in Morris county by 16,820 votes. Sherill also carried Essex County, which counted for 26.1% of the vote in 2018, by a 33.76% margin, defeating Webber by over 28,000 votes, which was larger than the number of votes he got in the county.
Sherill carried the Passaic County portion of the district by 5.88% and 3,051 votes over Webber. Passaic which is split between the 5th, 9th, and 11th districts, counted for 16.04% of votes cast in the 11th district in 2018. Webber’s only victory in the 11th district was in the traditionally Republican-leaning Sussex County portion of the district, which counted for 6.3% of votes cast in 2018. He won this portion of the district by 5.8%, or 1,202 votes over Sherill.
In part due the enormous swing in the 11th district from 2016 to 2018, and strong fundraising from Sherill, no serious Republican opponent has filed to run against her in 2020. After a poor campaign launch, one opponent already dropped out of the race, and it seems that no major Republicans in the 11th district are gearing towards a run.
Sherill is in the safest position out of the four new freshman members of Congress from New Jersey, having won by the largest margin out of the four, and not having drawn a serious opponent.
Despite an impressive 2018 performance, New Jersey Democrats are still not entirely comfortable in their seats, Republicans are hoping to flip back some of these seats in 2020, and have drawn strong candidates in some, and hope that having Trump on the ballot may spike Republican turnout in the 2nd and 3rd districts, both of which were won by 5-6% margins by Trump in 2016. However, the Democrats have done well in fundraising, and only Malinowski and Van Drew have drawn serious opponents.