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One last map story

A detailed look at all of N.J.’s 2022 congressional races

By Joey Fox, December 22 2022 4:58 pm

Hanukkah is underway and Christmas is fast approaching; New Jersey has just woken up from the longest night of 2022; and in a couple of weeks, the 118th session of the United States Congress will be sworn in. What better time to take one more thorough, data-driven look at the 2022 congressional elections?

New Jerseyans went to the polls on November 8 with expectations swirling of a potential red wave, but the end result was something much more muted. 

One Democratic incumbent, Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-Ringoes), lost re-election; he’ll soon be replaced by Rep.-elect Tom Kean Jr. (R-Westfield). But with a new, favorably drawn congressional map to aid them, several other battle-tested Democrats easily retained their seats, and the state will send nine Democrats and three Republicans to the House next year.

Democrats overall won 54.2% of the statewide vote to Republicans’ 44.4%, a margin of 9.8 points.

 

That 9.8-point win represented a 6.1-point swing towards Republicans compared to the 2020 presidential election, when Joe Biden won the state by 15.9 points. But the shift was not evenly distributed; some districts, especially the 2nd and 4th, swung drastically towards Republicans, while Democrats actually managed to improve in the 3rd, 8th, and 11th districts.

Here’s a detailed look at how every district voted this year, ordered by margin of victory. (And if you want even more data to keep you warm through the cold winter months, click here for a comprehensive spreadsheet.)

District 7 – GOP +2.8

The only district that changed hands this year was the 7th, where Malinowski lost to Kean in a rematch of their close 2020 contest.

 

Malinowski, who first arrived in Congress after ousting Rep. Leonard Lance (R-Clinton) in 2018, was viewed as the underdog this year as soon as the new congressional map was approved. The two-term Democrat had already underperformed Joe Biden by a substantial amount once – he won by one point in 2020 as Biden was carrying his district by 10 – and in a new district that was six points redder, most on both sides thought he would lose.

And that is indeed what came to pass. Malinowski lost by three points, doing worse than Biden in all but 11 of the 7th district’s 95 towns. Kean, a former state senator, performed 6.5 points better than Donald Trump overall, particularly in ancestrally Republican areas of Somerset County like Bedminster and Bernardsville.

Kean’s victory means that Republicans have managed to claw back two of the five districts they lost in 2016 or 2018. After a nadir in 2018, New Jersey Republicans are at least back on the right trajectory.

But this year’s results also show how it may be tough for Kean to repeat his success. 

Though he won, he didn’t do as well as some expected, and he in fact did worse in many towns than he did in his 2020 race; the new, redder district lines were what pulled him across the finish line. Most notably, much of Kean’s crossover support in his own home turf – places like Westfield, his hometown, and other moderate suburbs that made up the core of his old legislative district – evaporated compared to 2020.

Kean will work hard to shore up that support over the next two years, and Democrats will work just as hard to undermine it. Regardless, the 7th district will likely host New Jersey’s premier House race once again in 2024.

District 5 – Dem +10.4

Unlike Malinowski, Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-Wyckoff) was not at the top of most Republicans’ target lists this year. His Republican opponent, investment banker and 2020 nominee Frank Pallotta, struggled to raise money and took conservative positions at odds with the district (which was redrawn to be more Democratic), and national Republicans didn’t see him as a worthwhile investment.

Ultimately, Republicans were right to be skeptical, since Gottheimer won by double-digits – though Pallotta still came closer than any New Jersey Republican besides Kean to flipping a House seat this year.

Gottheimer’s 10.4-point victory was two points worse than Biden’s performance in 2020, and in general, very little was different about their two coalitions. Gottheimer did a little worse in most of the district, with the exception of solid performances in majority-minority towns like Teaneck and Englewood.

One town that should serve as something of a warning sign for Democrats is Palisades Park, which Gottheimer won by nine points – 13 points worse than Biden. Gottheimer’s milquetoast performance could have been partially due to a highly competitive mayoral race on the same ballot, but Democrats should still keep an eye on the majority-Korean borough.

District 9 – Dem +11.4

The third-closest race in the state was, unexpectedly, the plurality-Hispanic 9th district, where Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-Paterson) won by an 11-point margin against Republican Billy Prempeh after decades of landslide victories.

Redistricting played a major role in the result, since the 9th district took on a number of Republican-leaning suburbs in order to make Gottheimer safer in the 5th district. But Pascrell still did 7.6 points worse than Biden, the biggest drop of any Democratic incumbent in the state.

Pascrell underperformed in most of the district’s towns, and just as importantly, turnout cratered in heavily Democratic cities like Paterson and Passaic with no statewide race on the ballot. Combined, those factors led to Prempeh coming closer to beating Pascrell than any Republican since 1996, when Pascrell unseated Rep. Bill Martini (R-Clifton).

Luckily for Pascrell, low turnout will likely be less of a problem next cycle, when Hispanic voters re-engage for the 2024 presidential election.

District 3 – Dem +11.8

Nowhere did Republicans crash harder than in the 3rd district, where Republican Bob Healey lost to Rep. Andy Kim (D-Moorestown) by a crushing 11.8-point margin.

That represents a 2.3 point improvement versus 2020, so it wasn’t a disaster in that context. But Republicans had hyped up Healey, the CEO of a yacht company based in Ocean County, and Democrats were genuinely worried that Kim would manage to lose a seat they had redrawn to be strongly Democratic – so relative to expectations, a double-digit victory was a blowout.

Much like Gottheimer, Kim basically kept the same coalition as Biden, doing slightly worse than the president in some towns and slightly better in others.

The biggest exceptions were in Monmouth County, which Kim has never represented before. Several towns in the county shifted quite a bit towards Healey; Holmdel, for example, gave Healey a 16-point victory after only voting for Trump by five points.

There are a few different possible explanations for why Kim struggled far more in Monmouth than elsewhere. One is simply that its towns were new to him, though that’s also true of Mercer County towns like Lawrence and Hamilton, and Kim did perfectly fine among those voters.

Another is that Monmouth County is in the New York City media market, while the rest of the district is in the Philadelphia market. If Kim focused less on advertising in that market – or if, as some have hypothesized, Democrats in the New York market simply struggled more overall – that could explain the discrepancy.

District 6 – Dem +16.4

Rep. Frank Pallone (D-Long Branch)’s victory over Monmouth County Commissioner Sue Kiley landed at a healthy 16.4 points, once again frustrating Republican hopes that the 6th district would finally become competitive.

As a countywide elected official, Kiley was the strongest Republican challenger the 6th district has fielded in years. But outside of a few towns like Fair Haven and Rumson, she wasn’t able to make much of a dent in Pallone’s margin.

District 11 – Dem +18.8

Though it’s almost quaint to think about now, heading into Election Day, the 11th district was seen as somewhat competitive; few expected Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-Montclair) to lose to former Assistant Passaic County Prosecutor Paul DeGroot, but it looked like he might at least make the race close.

He didn’t. Sherrill won by nearly 19 points, overperforming Biden by two points in a formerly competitive district that was redrawn to strongly favor Democrats.

Sherrill’s win was impressive everywhere, but especially in her home of Essex County, where she has dominated since her first victory in 2018. Historically Republican suburbs like Roseland, Cedar Grove, and West Caldwell shifted between five and ten points more Democratic compared to 2020, a remarkable feat in a midterm held under a Democratic president.

There’s long been speculation that Sherrill may try for a statewide run sometime in the future. If electability is a chief concern, this year’s results are a major point in her favor.

District 2 – GOP +18.9

After two hard-fought cycles in the 2nd district – first as a Democrat, then as a Republican – Rep. Jeff Van Drew (R-Dennis) solidified his hold on the district with a huge 19-point win this year.

 

Democrats, after throwing all they had at the party-switching Van Drew in 2020, basically gave up this year; their nominee, Tim Alexander, never raised much money or convinced national Democrats he had what it took to bring Van Drew down. That, combined with Van Drew’s obvious strengths as a politician, combined to make the 2nd district swing a full 14 points towards Republicans this year – the largest swing in either direction anywhere in the state.

Alexander’s performance was particularly dismal in Democratic cities like Vineland and Atlantic City, where he underperformed Biden by 19 and 27 points, respectively. The only area where he held his own was Gloucester County, possibly because of highly competitive races for countywide offices on the same ballot.

If Democrats ever choose to train their fire on Van Drew in the future, it’s possible the 2nd district could host competitive races again – but Van Drew’s dominant victory is certainly not a promising sign.

District 1 – Dem +27.1

Though the 2nd district shifted strongly towards Republicans, South Jersey’s other main district, the 1st, went in the opposite direction. Rep. Donald Norcross (D-Camden) made sure to campaign hard against Republican Claire Gustafson, and he was rewarded with a huge 27-point victory.

Norcross did better than Biden in almost every town in the district, especially in the many small suburbs of Camden County. He shifted several towns more than 15 points towards Democrats compared to 2020, something few other New Jersey Democrats were able to do.

The result is a testament to the continued strength of the South Jersey Democratic machine in Camden and Gloucester Counties, even as it’s faded elsewhere in the region. As this year showed, Norcross’ brother George remains capable of delivering big wins for Democrats within his core sphere of influence.

District 12 – Dem +27.2

The story of the 12th district, where Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-Ewing) defeated Darius Mayfield, is similar to that of the 9th: suburban underperformances and urban turnout collapse combine for a big shift towards Republicans.

The 12th district is quite a bit bluer than the 9th, though, so Watson Coleman’s relative underperformance was less noticeable. Sure, she “only” won by 27 points – but even if that’s not as strong as previous Democratic performances, it’s still a landslide victory.

District 4 – GOP +35.5

New Jersey’s lone Republican from a truly safe seat, Rep. Chris Smith (R-Manchester), didn’t have the easiest start to 2022. First, he had to move to Ocean County after his hometown of Hamilton was drawn into the 3rd district; then, he had to get past a right-wing primary challenger who claimed he was insufficiently pro-Trump.

But Smith got through those challenges with panache, and the general election that followed was a blowout: a 35.5-point victory for Smith over Democrat Matt Jenkins, 13 points better than Trump had done two years ago.

The heavily Orthodox Jewish town of Lakewood in particular gave Smith a colossal margin. He won the township 88%-11%, netting him more than 19,000 votes – the most net votes any congressional candidate got out of a single town this year.

District 8 – Dem +50.1

Besides Tom Kean Jr., the only other fresh face New Jersey will send to Congress in January is Rep.-elect Rob Menendez (D-Jersey City), a Port Authority Commissioner and the son of Senator Bob Menendez who was elected to succeed retiring Rep. Albio Sires (D-West New York).

Menendez was also, impressively, the best-performing congressional Democrat compared to Biden anywhere in the state. Like he did elsewhere around the country, Biden struggled (relatively speaking) among the Hispanic voters of urban North Jersey, but Menendez improved on Biden’s margins in all but three towns (and one of those three towns, Kearny, cast just 170 votes in the 8th district).

Union City in particular stands out on the swing map; the majority-Hispanic city swung 24 points towards Menendez compared to 2020. That can probably be attributed to Mayor Brian Stack, who has an unparalleled ability to get his city’s voters to turn out for his preferred Democratic candidates.

District 10 – Dem +57.5

Finally, there’s Rep. Donald Payne Jr. (D-Newark), who holds the safest seat in all of New Jersey. Payne won by 57.5 points, which is technically a modest underperformance compared to Biden, though no one is paying very close attention when margins are that high.

Payne actually improved by a small amount in the 10th district’s majority-Black towns like Newark, East Orange, and Irvington. But because he underperformed in the suburbs, and because the suburbs had higher turnout, his districtwide margin still fell.

Statewide turnout

Looking at partisan results can tell you a lot about how New Jersey’s 2022 elections went down, but turnout was also an important factor – and one that helps explain why Republicans did worse on a district-by-district level than in the statewide popular vote.

In general, competitive districts had higher turnout compared to the 2020 presidential election, as is to be expected in a year when there were no statewide races on the ballot. 

The district with the highest turnout rate (as a percentage of 2020 turnout) was the 7th at 67.2%, followed by the 11th (62.6%), the 3rd (61.6%), and the 5th (61.5%) – all districts which were regarded as competitive. At the bottom of the list, meanwhile, were the solidly Democratic, majority-minority 10th (44.4%) and 8th (44.5%).

It’s tough to concretely determine, though, whether the higher turnout in certain districts was due more to their competitiveness or to the towns within them. New Jersey’s competitive districts are mostly based in its wealthier suburbs, which tend to have the state’s highest turnout rates anyways.

For example, Lawrence and Hopewell Townships in Mercer County are relatively similar well-off liberal suburbs which sit in different districts: Lawrence is in the closely fought 3rd district, while Hopewell is in the uncompetitive 12th district. One would assume that Lawrence would have higher turnout – but in fact, Hopewell (65.1%) did better than Lawrence (62.7%).

Or, to take another example, the 11th district had high turnout overall, but its three plurality- or majority-Hispanic towns – Dover, Belleville, and Victory Gardens – all had less than 50% turnout compared to 2020.

The only concrete rule was that more suburban and whiter towns had higher turnout, regardless of what district they were in, while more urban and nonwhite towns had lower turnout. 

The fact that most of the state’s deep-blue urban centers – including Newark, Jersey City, Paterson, Elizabeth, Camden, and Trenton – all had low turnout compared to 2020 helps explain why Democrats had a middling performance in the statewide popular vote despite doing well in most key districts.

(Once again: click here for a comprehensive spreadsheet. Happy holidays!)

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