Republican businessman Robert Healey, Jr. will announce on Tuesday that he’ll challenge Rep. Andy Kim (D-Moorestown) in 2022, setting up a race between a wealthy 38-year-old yacht manufacturer and yoga instructor who was once a punk rocker, and a 39-year-old two-term congressman from a district that Donald Trump carried twice.
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For Republicans in Burlington and Ocean counties looking to flip a congressional district in President Joe Biden’s mid-term election, Healey might be the kind of unconventional candidate that will stand out – and raise the money needed to take on Kim, who has amassed a $2.7 million campaign warchest.
Healey runs the Ocean County-based Viking Yacht Company, a family-owned shipbuilding business that employs almost 1,600 mostly-blue collar employees and manufactures high-quality semi-custom fiberglass yachts.
He also runs the Healey International Relief Organization, which has spent millions delivering healthcare services, food, clean water, and education programs in the war-torn African nation of Sierra Leone.
But when Healey was a teenager growing up in Burlington County, he was the lead singer in a punk rock bank, The Ghouls, that was well-known in the Philadelphia area and toured nationally.
Some of the lyrics were hardcore and sometimes violent, and his candidacy could test whether there is a reasonable shelf life for opposition research – most specifically if voters will judge Healey based on his record as a businessman and philanthropist and not songs written by someone in his teens and early 20s.
Healey is stepping up and owning his days a punk rocker.
“I was a lead singer, and I wrote those songs and I understand if people might find it offensive,” Healey told the New Jersey Globe. “I was an angry guy back then. I started the band when I was sixteen.”
Healey’s music career ended almost fifteen years ago, when he decided to use his degree in finance to help run his family business.
“It’s not who I am now. I’ve got a five-month-old daughter. I’ve spent the last fifteen years learning that it’s not about me, it’s about a lot of other people,” he said. “Back then, I thought I was the center of everything. Now I realize that that you’ve got to take yourself out of the center if you want to lead some kind of fulfilling life.”
Micah Rasmussen, the director of the Rebovich Institute of New Jersey Politics at Rider University, thinks that Healey is smart to take full responsibility for his punk rock days and define himself before a political opponent tries to do that for him.
“There’s no escaping a candidate’s digital footprint— you can’t deny it— so the best option is to just own it. Be open and forthright about what it reflects or doesn’t reflect,” Rasmussen said. “Help voters make sense of it, and put it into perspective, just as you have.”
According to Rasmussen, research shows that most candidates survive uncomfortable issues.
“Voters will weigh factors such as how old it is or what it says about a candidate’s priorities, ability to lead, or what it says about someone’s character,” he said. “And if the answer is ‘not much,’ then that’s the significance voters will assign to it.”
Republicans in conservative Ocean County, where retirees are a big part of the population, might need to decide if they want to be judged on what the did and said in their early 20s – and if they want their grandchildren to be similarly defined.
Healey spoke repeatedly about his experience running “a business that’s about our people.”
“The reason those boats are of such good quality is because we’ve got fifty seven year history of having really great people that work alongside us,” he said. “Some of them are immigrants. Some of them were born and raised here. Some of their families go back 300 years in places like Ocean County and Atlantic County … they’re all really good people. We’re talking about 57 years of people who have been able to buy a house based on working for our company.”
Unlike 2018, when Kim was able to topple a two-term incumbent in Trump’s mid-term election, Kim is now running in the mid-term election of a Democratic president with an upside-down 37%-58% job approval rating in South Jersey helped the GOP win three State Senate races in the region, including the toppling of Republican-turned-Democrat Dawn Addiego (D-Evesham) in a Burlington-based legislative district.
Healey’s entrance into the race comes a week after Republican Jack Ciattarelli carried Ocean County with a massive 68% of the vote and cut Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy’s lead in Burlington County from 18,000 votes four years ago to 11,000 in 2021.
Rasmussen said that the 2021 elections could provide a glimpse of what next year’s mid-term elections might look like.
“Burlington and Ocean both figured prominently in the election cycle we just finished, and no one is expecting anything other than more of the same next year,” Rasmussen stated. “Republicans over-performed in both counties this year, and we’ll be watching closely to see how that figures into 2022.”
The first time candidate – his wife worked on Rep. Tom MacArthur’s re-election campaign when Kim unseated him – says he’s been meeting with party leaders and stakeholders since May, when he began exploring a congressional run.
He said he’s met Kim a few times and that he came off as a “moderate guy.”
“But when I look at his voting record, I don’t find that to be the case,” Healey said. “He votes 98% of the time with (Nancy) Pelosi. He votes 94% of the time with (Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez) and members of the squad. He’s a member of the Progressive Caucus, and what they’re doing right now in the current administration is taking this country extremely far to the left. I don’t think it’s healthy. I think it’s dangerous.”
Building strong consulting team
Healey has secured the A-team of political consultants to help him navigate his first run for public office: Chris Russell is coming off a near-upset as Ciattarelli’s chief strategist and ran the races for the last two GOP congressmen from the district, Jon Runyan and MacArthur; pollster Adam Geller and media consultant Larry Weitzner from Jamestown Associates are among the most successful in the nation.
He wouldn’t say how much of his own money he’ll put in the race before the 2022 election, but he committed to show “a half-million dollars in in the bank account” by December 31, when he’ll need to report his 4th quarter fundraising numbers to the Federal Election Commission.
“I absolutely believe I’ll be competitive,” he said about matching Kim’s fundraising prowess.
A self-described fiscal conservative, he said that he’s concerned about “what’s going on in D.C. right now.
“It’s just like, look, let’s just throw money at this. I understand there’s some real problems in this country that we’re trying to solve, and it’s not easy,” Healey stated. “Having run business fifteen years, I can tell you the solution isn’t always, let’s throw more money at it. Sometimes it’s like lighting it on fire.”
Healey says he is a gun-owner and Second Amendment supporter.
“I was fortunate enough when I bought my first firearm to have a friend of mine who is a veteran take me out and teach me how to use it responsible, he said. “I’ll always be very thankful to him for that. I think it’s if you’re going to be a gun owner, it’s important to be responsible with it.”
Healey said that he is “personally pro-life.”
“I think there are some exceptions to that, including, rape, incest, (and the) life of the mother,” he explained.
As Healey embarks on his last journey, he says that he’s had “an interesting life, no doubt.”
“I hope I get 50 more years of an interesting life ahead of me. I hope I’m as sharp as my father is at 93,” he said.
He said that the last fifteen years have been the most formative part of his life.
“ I got out of doing what I was doing. I got into some things that really mattered. I understood the importance of my family. And then I became a father, and I really understood the importance of family,” he said. “Particularly in the last five months since we’ve had Ingrid, the best days of my life are the days when I don’t leave early so early and I get to wake her up in the morning and I come home and I get to put her to bed at night, like when she smiles and she’s happy and the worst days of my life are the days where I get home too late and I wake up too early to see her and it.”
“It changes your perspective,” said Healey. “Sierra Leone changed my perspective on life and my daughter changed my perspective on life.”
Healey still doesn’t know what his district will look like. The Congressional Redistricting Commission is just starting the process of redrawing New Jersey’s twelve House districts to reflect that 2020 U.S. Census.
In the current district, Trump outpolled Joe Biden by a narrow 49.4%-49.2% margin. Kim is just one of seven members of Congress who won a district that Trump carried last year.
Healey becomes the fourth candidate to enter the race again Kim. He’ll face Rev. Shawn Hyland, the former executive director of the Family Policy Alliance of New Jersey, Mount Holly school board member Will Monk, and perennial candidate Tricia Flanagan in a bid for the Republican nomination.
A former White House National Security Council staffer in the Obama administration, Kim defeated two-term Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-Toms River) by 3,973 votes, 50%-49%, in what was the closest House race in the state.
In 2020, he defeated former Hill International CEO David Richter by 33,513 votes, 53%-45%
Kim raised his national profile when he was photographed picking up garbage in the U.S. Capitol rotunda in the early morning hours of January 6.
In its present form, the 3rd district has 11,298 more Democrats than Republicans. When the district was drawn a decade ago, there were 8,863 more Democrats than Republicans.
Democrats won the seat in 2008, when John Adler (D-Cherry Hill) won following the retirement of twelve-term Rep. Jim Saxton (R-Bordentown). Adler lost to Runyan, an ex-NFL star who played for the Philadelphia Eagles, two years later.
MacArthur won the seat in 2014 after Runyan decided four years in Washington were enough.