When Hugh Sinclair walked in to the Union County Democratic screening committee in March 2018, Tom Malinowski and Linda Weber each had six votes.
Sinclair, the Democratic chairman in Garwood (pop. 4,255) and the lone uncommitted voter in the room, was to be the decider.
At that moment, the race for the Democratic nomination for Congress in New Jersey’s 7th district was up in the air.
Malinowski had won organization lines after scoring convention wins in Hunterdon, Morris and Warren counties. Webber had the line in Somerset and Essex.
Union County was a must-win for both candidates. The day before the vote, Emily’s List announced that it would endorse Weber if she won the Union County line.
Sinclair voted for Malinowski, giving the former assistant U.S. Secretary of State the Union line by a razor-thin 7-6 vote.
Webber dropped out after losing Union and Malinowski picked up the lines in Somerset and Essex.
Union had 29% of the Democratic primary voters in the 7th, and Somerset was 25%. Hunterdon (19%), Morris (13%), Warren (9%) and Essex (5%) made up the rest.
Had Sinclair voted for Weber, it would have altered the entire landscape of the 2018 campaign.
Malinowski would have gone into the Democratic primary with his chief rival on the line in the counties that produced 54% of the vote.
He would have been forced to spend money on the primary, and even if he had won, he would have lost three months of fundraising as the presumed Democratic nominee.
It’s possible – no one will ever know – that a bitter, expensive Democratic primary would have helped Rep. Leonard Lance (R-Clinton) eke out a win in the general election.
Instead, Sinclair essentially cleared the field for Malinowski and set up a path that allowed the Democrat to beat Lance by 16,400 votes in November.