Home>Campaigns>Running off the line, Ian Smith launches bid against Kim 

Atilis Gym owner Ian Smith at his congressional campaign launch in Delran. (Photo: Joey Fox for the New Jersey Globe).

Running off the line, Ian Smith launches bid against Kim 

Atilis Gym owner will face Robert Healey Jr. in the Republican primary

By Joey Fox, February 03 2022 7:39 pm

Ian Smith, who rose to fame early in the pandemic when he refused to close his gym in protest of Gov. Phil Murphy’s Covid lockdowns, this evening kicked off his bid for Congress in the 3rd congressional district, currently held by Rep. Andy Kim (D-Moorestown).

Amid a packed, unmasked bar crowd in Delran, Smith pledged to fight for a number of conservative priorities, including ending Covid restrictions, limiting immigration, and reducing government spending.

“I will fight [Covid] mandates at the federal level as a congressman, and I will use my bully pulpit in Congress at the state and local level to help my constituents fight back,” Smith said. “We must end mandates and embrace medical freedom.”

Smith opened Atilis Gym in 2019, but was soon required to close it in accordance with lockdown measures early in the pandemic. He refused, racking up massive legal fees and becoming something of a conservative celebrity; he later made further headlines when he began offering free gym memberships to unvaccinated people.

Smith’s conflict was with Murphy and the state government, but he said that Kim, whom he called “Joe Biden’s and Phil Murphy’s friend,” is also part of the problem.

Before he gets to face Kim, though, Smith will first have to win a Republican primary against Robert Healey Jr., a yacht manufacturer and former punk rocker who has already raised more than $500,000. Intriguingly, Smith said he won’t seek the Republican county party endorsements, essentially surrendering prime ballot placement to Healey.

Instead, Smith said he’ll run with his own off-the-line slate of candidates in Burlington, Mercer, and Monmouth Counties; one such candidate, county commissioner hopeful Val Gallagher, was present at Smith’s launch. And Smith had few kind words for the more establishment Republicans prevalent in the state and county parties, though he did not mention Healey or anyone else by name.

“I am not part of the establishment,” Smith said. “People are looking for something different. They are hungry for something different. For far too long, we have been … left with the lesser of two evils as a choice for our political candidates. This is unacceptable.”

Healey, in a statement released shortly after Smith’s launch, pulled no punches in return, calling Smith a “convicted murderer & 9/11 conspiracy theorist.”

“Republicans have a historic opportunity to stop Joe Biden’s and Nancy Pelosi’s radical agenda and win back control of the House this November, but that won’t happen if we nominate unfit and unelectable candidates like Ian Smith,” Healey campaign manager Theresa Velardi said in a statement.

Smith was convicted of vehicular homicide when he was 20 years old and served five years in prison, something he acknowledged at his launch today; as for 9/11 conspiracies, the Healey campaign cited tweets in which Smith said “our government has never told us the truth about what happened that day.”

If Healey’s off-the-line bid is a success, he’ll face a tough opponent in Kim, who was first elected in 2018. Kim won re-election by eight points in 2020, and the 3rd district has since been made significantly more Democratic: while the current district lines narrowly voted for Donald Trump, the newly-drawn district went to Joe Biden by 14 points.

But – as candidates facing difficult elections are wont to do – Smith projected defiance, saying that the state and country are eager to elect more “ordinary citizens” to public office.

“I have entered the political arena to ensure that the government of the people, by the people, for the people does not perish from this earth. Together, we can make sure that does not happen,” he said. “We have a lot of work to do.”

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