Senate Minority Leader Thomas Kean, Jr. (R-Westfield) moved closer to a run for the U.S. House of Representatives in 2020, saying he is exploring a challenge to freshman Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-Rocky Hill) in New Jersey’s 7th district.
“I have concerns about the direction of our Congress. New Jersey deserves strong leadership and I’m exploring a run for Congress,” Kean told the New Jersey Globe.
Kean, 50, is widely viewed as a top-tier challenger to Malinowski, a former assistant U.S. Secretary of State who ousted five-term Rep. Leonard Lance (R-Clinton) last year.
The son of a popular former governor, Kean is a proven vote-getter in his own right. He has won six races for the New Jersey Legislature by wide margins in a district that has become increasingly more Democratic and has been through a tough campaign as a U.S. Senate candidate in 2006.
Republicans view Malinowski as a top target next year as they seek to regain control of the House.
There are 5,404 more Republicans than Democrats in the 7th, which supported Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election by a 48%-47% margin – a 4,139-vote plurality.
Malinowski beat Lance by 16,400 votes (52%-47%), becoming the first Democrat to win the 7th district seat since 1956.
As a first-time candidate, Malinowski raised nearly $6.3 million – more than double what Lance raised.
Kean raised nearly $7.9 million when he ran statewide twelve years ago.
If he runs, Kean would be the front-runner for the Republican nomination.
Several Republicans are also mulling bids in the 7th, including State Sen. Michael Doherty (R-Oxford), Assemblyman Erik Peterson (R-Franklin), and former U.S. Senate staffer Rosemary Becchi.
Becchi has been the most active so far. She has met with Republican leaders to discuss a possible congressional bid – something she has denied – and is running a dark money non-profit in a bid to help GOP candidates running this year.
Tom Philips, a 41-year-old human resources executive from Scotch Plains, was the first candidate to enter the race.
Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick (R-Westfield) told the New Jersey Globe on Tuesday that he would support Kean if he runs.
At age 32, Kean sought the Republican nomination for Congress in 2000 when Rep. Bob Franks (R-Warren) gave up his seat to run for U.S. Senate. He finished second in the GOP primary, losing to Mike Ferguson (R-Warren) by 3,390 votes in a four-candidate field.
He won a special election convention for an open Assembly seat in 2001, following the death of Alan Augustine (R-Scotch Plains). He held the seat that year with a 15,724-vote margin against Westfield mayor Tom Jardim.
Kean moved up to the Senate in 2003 after Richard Bagger (R-Westfield) resigned. He won a full-term that fall with 67% of the vote.
In 2006, Kean ran for the United States Senate. He won 76% in the Republican primary against conservative activist John Ginty and faced incumbent Bob Menendez in the general election. Menendez had been appointed to the Senate earlier that year to replace Jon Corzine, who gave up his seat to become governor.
Menendez won by a 53%-44% margin, a margin of 203,068 votes. Kean carried the municipalities that now make up the 7th district.
The following year, Kean challenged Lance for Senate Minority Leader and won.