Home>Campaigns>Three possibilities for this year’s 3rd congressional district election

Democratic Rep. Andy Kim, left, and Republican Bob Healey. (Photos: Kevin Sanders and Joey Fox for the New Jersey Globe).

Three possibilities for this year’s 3rd congressional district election

Kim, Healey locked in increasingly competitive race

By Joey Fox, November 01 2022 3:36 pm

Will Republicans sweep this year’s midterm elections? Does the overturning of Roe v. Wade give Democrats a fighting chance? Are pollsters going to be systematically off-base in one direction or another, the way they were in 2020?

With just a week to go until Election Day, there’s still a mess of conflicting signals about how the 2022 midterms will end. That’s especially true in New Jersey, where there’s no statewide election to draw voters to the polls and where few pollsters have deigned to publicly release data on the state’s key congressional races.

One such contest where everyone is flying somewhat blind is the 3rd congressional district race between Rep. Andy Kim (D-Moorestown) and Republican businessman Bob Healey.

The fundamentals point towards Kim, a two-term incumbent who put up extremely impressive electoral performances in both 2018 and 2020. The 3rd district grew far bluer on the state’s new congressional map, which was drawn by Democrats on the state redistricting commission; it would have voted for Joe Biden by 14 points, while Kim’s old district was narrowly won by Donald Trump.

But Healey is not without his own advantages. Healey and an affiliated super PAC have managed to outspend Kim with the help of some serious self-funding, and as voters continue to fret about inflation and crime, the Cook Political Report moved the race from Likely Democratic to Lean Democratic this morning, a clear sign that Healey has made the race competitive.

When all is said and done, anything from a big Kim victory to a Healey upset seem to be real possibilities. Here’s a look at three ways the 3rd district race might shake out.

A razor-thin result

When Democratic members of the Congressional Redistricting Commission drew what would ultimately become New Jersey’s congressional map, they clearly did so with the 2021 gubernatorial election in mind. 

Just a month earlier, Republican Jack Ciattarelli nearly upset Gov. Phil Murphy and carried all of the state’s competitive congressional districts in the process. So when the Democratic commissioners drew their map, they were careful to make it so that Kim, as well as Reps. Josh Gottheimer (D-Wyckoff) and Mikie Sherrill (D-Montclair), would run for re-election in a district Murphy had won.

The resulting 3rd district is a major shift from the district in place for decades. Instead of combining blue Burlington County with red Ocean County, the map puts Burlington together with even bluer Mercer County and a chunk of modestly Republican Monmouth County – enough to give Joe Biden a huge victory and Murphy a narrow 1.6-point win.

If the district ends up hosting a tight race, which with little data to guide us could be the most likely possibility, Kim’s performance might look something like Murphy’s.

That means carrying Burlington and Mercer Counties, which together make up nearly four-fifths of the district, by modest margins capable of drowning out a big Republican win in Monmouth County. If Kim does well in Burlington and wins Hamilton Township, a huge suburb that’s entirely new to him, he should be alright, though it might not be clear yet on Election Night who won.

Healey has focused unerringly on crime and economic problems in the 3rd district, issues that may transcend the traditional partisanship of the 3rd district. A close result would be a sign that Healey’s campaign successfully overcame the disadvantages the Congressional Redistricting Commission gave him; after all, when the congressional map was first put in place, few gave Republicans a realistic chance of making the race competitive. 

But still, the fact that even Murphy – who did far worse than almost every poll predicted – was able to carry the district shows the challenge Healey faces in getting across the finish line. The race also features two right-leaning minor party candidates, Christopher Russomanno and Greg Sobocinski, both of whom may cut into Healey’s support and further complicate his math.

Another Kim overperformance

The biggest obstacle Healey faces to winning, however, is Andy Kim. Kim is no generic Democrat; he’s one of the most impressive electoral juggernauts the state Democratic Party has produced in the last decade, and he’d be tough for anyone to beat.

In 2018, Kim defeated a Republican incumbent by one point in a district that Donald Trump had won by six points two years earlier. Then, in 2020, he was re-elected by eight points even as Trump again narrowly carried the district, becoming one of just seven House Democrats around the country to win in a district also won by Trump.

The consistency of that overperformance should give pause to any Republican who sees a soft target in the 3rd district congressman. Kim, having spent five years getting to know Burlington County voters, has used his formidable fundraising to tell voters in the new district about his own record in Congress and the more conservative positions Healey holds on issues like abortion.

If Kim does once again do well, his win may look something like Biden’s in 2020: dominant performances in Burlington and Mercer outweighing a decent loss in Monmouth.

The district includes a number of deep-blue towns that give Kim a major lift, particularly Willingboro, Lawrence, and East Windsor. Willingboro is a majority-Black town in Burlington County that usually votes 9-1 for Democrats, while Lawrence and East Windsor are both Mercer suburbs with growing Asian populations; assuming Kim wins all three by a lot (and turnout in all three is solid), that’s a huge chunk of votes in the bank.

Also key to Kim’s coalition are the blue-leaning, historically competitive Burlington County suburbs that powered his first two victories.

Evesham, for example, was closely aligned with the district as a whole in recent elections; it voted for Biden by 14 points and Murphy by 2.6, coming close to matching their districtwide performances. Kim, on the other hand, carried Evesham by 19 points two years ago. With a highly competitive local election on the ballot in Evesham this year, Kim probably won’t be able to reach that sort of margin there, but it shows in miniature just how strong of an incumbent he is.

A Healey stunner

Yet with Republicans making inroads in blue House districts all across the country, a Healey win isn’t out of the question.

The last Republican to carry the new 3rd district is a blast from the past: former Gov. Chris Christie. Christie’s 2013 re-election was such a blowout that it becomes near-useless to compare to other elections – the normal rules of political gravity simply didn’t apply – but his first win in 2009 is the most recent example available of a Republican winning a straightforward, partisan election in New Jersey.

That year, Christie carried the boundaries of the new 3rd district by nine points, although thanks to a bevy of independent and third-party candidates he only got 51% of the vote in the district. He narrowly carried Burlington and lost Mercer by all of 20 votes, while inland Monmouth towns like Holmdel and Manalapan delivered him gargantuan margins.

A lot has changed in New Jersey politics since 2009, and some parts of Christie’s coalition likely can’t be replicated today. Winning Evesham by 14 points, for example, is almost certainly unobtainable for Healey; so too is a 13 point victory in Moorestown, where both Kim and Healey live. Many of New Jersey’s suburbs simply aren’t amenable to moderate Republicans the way they once were, even when those Republicans are as strong as Healey.

But Healey, who has the benefit of running against Kim in a large number of towns Kim has never represented before, could aspire to Christie’s performance elsewhere. If he, like Christie, carries Hamilton Township – something that both parties think is increasingly possible given the town’s swingy history – and blows Kim out of the water in Monmouth County, he has a clear shot at winning.

Such a result would likely mean both that Kim failed to connect with swing voters the same way he did in previous years and that Healey’s campaign was able to break through among Democratic-leaning voters.

Ultimately, the race for the 3rd district, just like races for dozens of other underpolled districts across the country, could go any number of ways. The noisy signals of generic ballot polls, special election results, economic messaging, abortion concerns, and more each point in different directions and suggest different political environments.

But as losing candidates say, the only poll that ultimately matters is Election Day. That’s now only a week away – we’ll see soon which signals win out in the 3rd district.

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