Rep. Andy Kim (D-Moorestown) and businessman Bob Healey are men with different visions for the world. Kim, a two-term Democrat, has aligned with his party on major votes and fought for socially liberal policies; Healey, the Republican CEO of a major yacht-building company, sees Democratic proposals as a fiscal disaster and wants to focus on curbing inflation and crime.
But they also share many commonalities. Both are millennials, dads of young children, and residents of Moorestown hoping to raise their families in a safe and healthy community; both see reducing temperatures and increasing bipartisanship in Washington as a key priority, regardless of which party they may belong to.
The differences and similarities between Kim and Healey were each on full display in tonight’s New Jersey Globe-hosted debate, as the two candidates sparred on issues like abortion and inflation while finding common ground on a number of other, less partisan issues facing the 3rd congressional district.
Kim began the debate with an appeal to his past career in public service – he was a U.S. State Department official before flipping the 3rd district in 2018 – and his efforts to make sure everyone in his district has a voice.
“I do this because this district is my home,” Kim said. “I’ve done now 56 town halls, and every single town hall I do, I say whether you voted for me or not, you are my boss. My job is to serve you.”
Healey, on the other hand, said in his opening statement that whatever Kim’s intentions in Washington may be, he and his party haven’t been able to make life better for 3rd district residents.
“Our country’s headed in the wrong direction,” Healey said. “Record inflation, out of control crime, parents being labeled as extremists for simply asking questions about what their children are taught in school – and then of course, hyperpartisanship, where politicians like my opponent vote 100% of the time with their party.”
Naturally, one of the key issues in the debate was inflation, which is hugely important for voters both in New Jersey and across the country.
Healey said that to fight inflation, he’d work to make the United States more energy independent, lower the federal government’s spending, and eliminate the State and Local Tax (SALT) deduction cap. The SALT cap was a point of particular contention – Republicans were the ones who first put it in place, raising taxes for many higher-income families in New Jersey, but Healey said Kim had failed in his promise to eliminate it.
“The congressman had a chance, a real chance, to be a bipartisan leader, to do the right thing for the people of this district when the Inflation Reduction Act vote came up,” Healey said. “He could have dug his heels in and worked across the aisle… Instead he did what he has done for the last two years. He’s voted 100% of the time with Joe Biden.”
“This attack on SALT is one of the weirdest things I’ve ever come across in politics,” Kim responded. “It’s like someone’s setting a fire and then criticizing people who are slow to put it out. We’re doing our best here, but what we need are people on the other side of the aisle to step up, and they’re not doing it.”
The 3rd district, previously a district split evenly between the parties, was redrawn to be more Democratic on the state’s new congressional map, meaning Healey will have to win over a number of Democratic-leaning voters to win. And few issues are more critical to those voters than abortion, which was put front-and-center when the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June.
Healey outlined a balancing act of a stance on abortion: that it should be left up to the states and that some restrictions make sense, but that complete abortion bans are bad policy.
“I am personally pro-life, and there are exceptions to that: rape, life of the mother,” Healey said. “But here in New Jersey, I believe that we can and should find compromise around the first trimester. I do not support federal legislation on this; I don’t support states that would seek to ban it outright.”
Kim, who has run TV ads slamming Healey on abortion, called Healey’s policies “extreme” and noted that his proposal for limitations after the first trimester would in practice mean an abortion ban after around 13 weeks.
“It’s a complicated issue, I get that, and there are a lot of different opinions about it,” Kim said. “But that’s exactly why it was so important for us to have Roe… We can’t just throw it to the states. This is a huge problem.”
But whatever their disagreements, both Healey and Kim made it clear that they don’t intend to act as partisan ideologues in Washington.
“I try to live and breathe bipartisanship,” Kim said. “93% of the substantive votes I’ve done this Congress have been bipartisan.”
“I’m not going down there to work for my party,” Healey said. “I’m going down there to work for the people of this district. I’ve already taken positions that are counter to my own party. Whether it comes to the presidential election, I think Joe Biden won; whether it comes down to the vote on gay marriage, which members of my own party were against and I didn’t think that was right.”
On questions about issues ranging from protecting Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst to healthy eating to increasing funding for mental health services, Kim and Healey were largely in accord.
Even on the issue of crime – an issue that has become a cornerstone of many Republican campaigns – the two candidates fundamentally agreed on the necessity of support and funding for the police, although Healey tried to swat at Kim’s record all the same.
“Right now, we have an administration that has literally scapegoated police,” Healey said. “What concerns me is that my opponent is part of a far-left progressive caucus that wants to defund the police.”
“We need to set the record straight,” Kim responded. “I’m not someone that supported defunding the police… We both want to keep our communities safe. We’re both fathers – why would we want to do things that would make our kids less safe? Let’s cut out the politics, and try to find solutions to do just that.”
Kim is considered by most election analysts to be the favorite to win, in part because of the partisan lean of the district and in part because of Kim’s strengths as an incumbent. In order to close that gap, Healey has spent millions of dollars of his own money on his campaign and gotten millions more in aid from a super PAC funded by his mother.
Whether Healey’s significant investment helps him flip the district is soon to be determined; Election Day is just over a week away and in-person early voting has already begun.
In his closing statement, Kim acknowledged that he and Healey aren’t necessarily so different from one another, and that he wanted to be a representative everyone in his district can believe in.
“We’re two dads who live just down the same road from each other,” he said. “I hope that all of us across this country can take that step back… I want to serve everybody. I know I may not always be able to do that in the way that everyone wants, because we’re not going to agree on everything. But I think often through this line that Martin Luther King gave in the ‘I Have a Dream’ speech. He said, ‘Let us not try to quench our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.’”
To that end, the two candidates – both of whom play instruments – agreed to a bipartisan jam session after the campaign is over. But Healey closed out the debate with one last plea to 3rd district voters to let him attend that session as a congressman-elect.
“My opponent, Congressman Kim, has spent four years in office for policies that have given us record inflation and rising crime,” he said. “Folks, we can do better.”