The New Jersey Globe projects that Rep. Chris Smith (R-Manchester) has won re-election, defeating Democrat Matt Jenkins in the 4th congressional district.
As of 10:11 p.m. and with an estimated 85% of votes reported, Smith leads Jenkins by a 67%-31%% margin.
Smith’s victory means he’s headed to Congress for a 22nd term, something no New Jersey representative has ever done before. The previous longest-serving congressman, Rep. Peter Rodino (D-Newark), represented the 10th district for 40 years, a record Smith broke when he was sworn in for his 21st term in January 2021.
Smith first flipped the 4th district from Democrats in 1980, beating Rep. Frank Thompson (D-Trenton) after Thompson was ensnared in the Abscam probe. State Democrats saw the win as a fluke and figured they’d be able to beat Smith two years later, but the young congressman – just 27 when he was first elected – was far more resilient than they’d anticipated.
In the 42 years since, Smith’s district has shifted steadily farther from Trenton and closer to the Jersey Shore, but the congressman has stayed mostly the same. A moderate on many issues, Smith is often one of the few Republicans in the House to break with his caucus on major votes, though the former New Jersey Right to Life executive director also has a firm socially conservative streak.
This year, the new map approved by the Congressional Redistricting complicated Smith’s fortunes in several ways.
The map put Smith’s home of Hamilton Township in the Democratic-leaning 3rd district, forcing Smith to move to Manchester, the second time Smith has had to move to stay in his district. And the influx of new constituents provided an opening for right-wing primary challenger Mike Crispi, whose underfunded campaign lost 58%-37%.
But after Smith overcame those hurdles, the rest was smooth sailing. Jenkins, a contractor from Colts Neck, was the lone Democrat to file; in a district that includes both Lakewood and Toms River and voted for Donald Trump by 22 points, he never had a prayer of winning.
Smith is currently second in line to be Dean of the House, behind Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Kentucky) – who only beats out Smith because his name comes earlier alphabetically. Given that Rogers is 84 and Smith is just 69, it seems very possible that Smith will become dean at some point, which would make him the first New Jerseyan ever to serve as dean in either chamber of Congress.