Home>Campaigns>Six names for the short list of potential Kean opponents in 2024

U.S. Senator Cory Booker with his longtime aide, Matt Klapper. (Photo by Kevin Lowery for Cory 2020.)

Six names for the short list of potential Kean opponents in 2024

Democrats will quickly begin to recruit a candidate to flip NJ-7 back in two years

By David Wildstein, November 09 2022 8:02 am

Potential Democratic candidates for Congress in NJ-7 for 2024, lett to right: Matt Klapper, Jim Johnson, Joe Kelley, Mike Makarski, Sue Altman and Roy Freiman.

It won’t take long for Democrats to embark on a campaign to flip New Jersey’s 7th district seat in 2024, where Rep.-elect Thomas H. Kean, Jr. (R-Westfield) will likely find himself on the list of vulnerable incumbents even before he gets sworn in as congressman.

Kean defeated two-term Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-Ringoes) in this year’s midterm election.  He leads by 13,678 votes, roughly five percentage points,  in  a district that Joe Biden carried by four points; Malinowski has not yet conceded, telling supporters on Tuesday evening that the race was too close to call.   And while control of the House has not yet been decided, it appears that Democrats will either be defending a small majority or trying to claw their way back from a Republican-controlled House

Most successful congressional challengers in New Jersey over the last 50 years had never held public office before.  As the former minority leader of the New Jersey State Senate and a 21-year veteran of the legislature, Kean is the exception; first-time candidates like Andy Kim, Josh Gottheimer, Jon Runyan, Rush Holt, Torricelli, and Malinowski are more common.

As a starting off point, for discussion purposes only,  the New Jersey Globe (and no one else) has assembled a list of six candidates who could emerge as potential Kean rivals in 2024:

Matt Klapper:  The 39-year-old chief of staff to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland served as Cory Booker’s chief of staff in the United States Senate, and as chief policy advisor when Booker was the mayor of Newark.  Klapper is a former professional firefighter in his hometown of Summit and crew chief for an ambulance squad in next-door Summit.   The Yale Law School graduate helps run the U.S. Department of Justice, and as one of Booker’s closest friends and advisors, he has access to a national fundraising network.   He’s also a skilled political operative who helped run Booker’s campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Jim Johnson: An Under U.S. Secretary of the Treasury under President Bill Clinton, Johnson came out of nowhere and sought the Democratic nomination for governor in 2017; while he finished second in the primary to Phil Murphy by a 48%-22% margin, he raised nearly $3.3 million and outpolled two bigger names: Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D-Sayreville) and State Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D-Elizabeth).   Johnson worked to close gun-show loopholes after the Columbine school shooting while at the Treasury Department and chaired a national task force to combat arson at Black churches in the South.  Murphy tapped him as his special counsel during the state’s takeover of Atlantic City; he left that post to become New York City Corporation Counsel.  The 61-year-old Johnson, a Harvard Law graduate and former federal prosecutor, now lives in Lambertville.

Joe Kelley: Gov. Phil Murphy’s deputy chief of staff has run economic affairs for the Murphy administration since 2018, working on the recovery from COVID-19 and playing a leading role in economic development projects.  At age 38, the Morris County native reportedly has political ambitions; he’d come to the table with considerable campaign experience as the finance director for Murphy’s 2017 gubernatorial campaign and as an advisor to U.S. Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut.  If he decided to run, he could assemble the type of early warchest that would impress national Democrats anxious to flip NJ-7.

Michael Makarski: A top advisor to one of the state’s most politically influential labor leaders, Greg Lalevee, the business manager of the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 825, the 36-year-old Makarski would come to the race with connections to the state’s building trades unions and a built-in fundraising network.  Before moving to Basking Ridge, he served on the Secaucus Board of Education and was the youngest person to ever win a local school board seat.  The data-driven Makarski has considerable campaign experience and is the person behind the independent expenditure campaigns for Local 825.  He also made connections during his stint at a major public relations firm.

Sue Altman: The executive director of the New Jersey Working Families Alliance has assembled a statewide network as the face of the progressive wing of the Democratic party in New Jersey and could be the best hope of the left to secure a seat in Congress.  Altman, 40, worked for non-profits and in academia before building a career as a political activist; she also enjoys a strong alliance with the titular leader of New Jersey Democrats, Gov. Phil Murphy.  If she ran for Congress, she’d be able to tap into a national progressive fundraising network; as a candidate, she wouldn’t shy away from a fight with Phil Murphy.

Roy Freiman: The three-term assemblyman from Somerset County is the only Democratic lawmaker who lives in New Jersey’s 7th district (or at least close to it, since his hometown of Hillsborough was split in redistricting).  The 63-year-old former executive at Prudential Financial, he was able to flip a competitive Assembly seat in 2017 when Republican Jack Ciattarelli vacated it to run for governor.  As a legislator, Freiman has emerged as a moderate voice on economic issues.  This year he became chairman of the Assembly Agriculture and Food Security Committee, where’s he’s become an advocate for the role of local farms as an economic development opportunity.

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