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CD-3 Republican nominee Bob Healey. (Photo: Joey Fox for the New Jersey Globe).

What happened this week in New Jersey’s congressional races

An NJ-7 debate, an abortion flip-flop, and more

By Joey Fox, October 21 2022 4:40 pm

We’re now only two and a half weeks out from Election Day, and congressional campaigns from Upper Township to Upper Saddle River are entering the final sprint. Here’s what happened this week in New Jersey’s congressional races.

NJ-7 debate is full of Tomfoolery

Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-Ringoes) and former State Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean Jr. (R-Westfield) met virtually for the New Jersey Globe’s 7th district debate on Sunday, sparring over inflation, Nancy Pelosi, abortion, and the State and Local Tax (SALT) deduction cap.

Kean’s message was simple, and will likely resonate with many voters in the district: things are too expensive, and it’s Tom Malinowski’s fault. Though Democrats in Congress have passed bills like the Inflation Reduction Act that are partially meant to address the issue, inflation remains high, something Kean attributed to high government spending.

Malinowski, on the other hand, argued that Kean doesn’t have any real solutions for the issues central to his campaign. Now on his third closely watched congressional campaign, Malinowski has developed oratorical skills that outshine his opponent’s, but for voters focusing mostly on gas and grocery prices, that kind of distinction might not matter.

Frank has Pallotta different abortion stances

The question of abortion has been a thorny one for Republicans in New Jersey, and around the country, since the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision in June. Should Republican candidates in competitive districts celebrate the end of Roe v. Wade, as has been the party’s platform for decades, or should they try to defuse the issue by supporting some level of abortion access?

Frank Pallotta, running against Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-Wyckoff), decided to try doing both. Yesterday morning, the New Jersey Right to Life-endorsed candidate told the New Jersey Globe that he would “definitely not vote for a federal ban on abortion,” saying the issue should be left up to the states – a softening of his existing stance. Then, a few hours later, he changed his mind again, saying he’d back a national 20-week ban.

Republican congressional candidates get SALTy

At a joint press conference yesterday, five Republican nominees for Congress – Pallotta, Bob Healey, Sue Kiley, Paul DeGroot, and Darius Mayfield– held a joint press conference to hold Democrats’ feet to the fire on economic issues, particularly SALT. Many of the Democrats who flipped congressional districts in 2016 or 2018 campaigned hard on repealing the Republican-created SALT cap; now, with Democrats in power and the SALT cap still in place, Republican candidates have tried to turn the issue on its head.

“[Rep. Mikie Sherrill] could have done what Joe Manchin did, and she could have stuck her ground and fought for New Jersey,” said DeGroot, who’s running in the 11th district. “But when push came to shove, what did she do? She fell in line with Nancy Pelosi and Joe Biden, and she stabbed every taxpayer in this state in the back when she failed to pass SALT [relief].”

Michigan native visits beautiful New Jersey

Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel made a stop in Belvidere on Saturday to launch a day of canvassing for Kean, focusing heavily on inflation and the cost of living. Neither Kean nor McDaniel said anything especially revolutionary at the event, but the fact that it happened at all is a further sign that national Republicans are very invested in a Kean victory.

At a press availability after the event, Kean also made some news that should go down as deeply unsurprising: if elected, he’ll back House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-California) for House Speaker (or for Minority Leader, if Republicans don’t win the House). Since McCarthy was present at Kean’s campaign launch more than a year ago, that’s always been a bit of a foregone conclusion.

Bridgeport TV watchers excited to hear more about Tom Malinowski’s stock trades 

The flood of TV ads continued this week, with four new ads from each party hitting the airwaves.

Abortion remains the top theme for Democratic incumbents: Gottheimer, Sherrill, and Rep. Andy Kim (D-Mooretown) all released new ads saying their Republican opponents have extreme views that would restrict a woman’s right to choose, as did the House Majority PAC in support of Malinowski. Sherrill’s ad also drew from the Star-Ledger’s endorsement, which said that DeGroot has “no coherent response” for combating inflation. 

Countering them were two new ads from Republican challengers: one from Kean slamming Malinowski on the House Ethics Committee inquiry into his stock trading, and another from Healey, Kim’s opponent in the 3rd district, hitting Kim over rising crime rates.

Finally, the National Republican Campaign Committee swooped into the 7th district once again with two brief spots blaming inflation on “extreme liberal Tom Malinowski.” Outside Republican groups have now spent more than $3 million to aid Kean, while Malinowski hasn’t gotten nearly the same level of support from Democratic groups.

Some stuff for the number nerds

As tallied by Ryan Dubicki of the Associated Press, New Jersey voters have now returned 303,008 absentee ballots, representing around 32% of the 950,713 ballots requested. 66% of the returned ballots have come from registered Democrats, 21% from Republicans, and 13% from unaffiliateds.

In 2018, the most recent federal midterm election, New Jerseyans cast a total of 3.1 million ballots; if this year has similar turnout, the absentee ballots already returned would represent around 10% of the total votes cast. It’s difficult to make such predictions, however, in part because it’s not clear what this year’s ultimate turnout will look like and in part because voters’ preferred voting methods have changed dramatically since Covid.

The absentee tallies will continue to be updated in the weeks ahead, and beginning next weekend, there will be another early measure of turnout: in-person early voting. The nine-day-long voting period prior to Election Day debuted in last year’s gubernatorial election, and while it didn’t attract particularly high turnout in that election or in June’s primary, it may steadily catch on among voters.

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