Democrats appear to have won four New Jersey House seats on Tuesday that have been under Republican control for a combined 128 years. Republicans are already talking about how to win them back in two years.
If Republicans want to take back the House in two years, they might need to look to New Jersey to pick up seats. One lesson of the current campaign cycle is the need to begin fundraising early. All four winners were in the race by November 2017, some sooner than others.
Three of the freshman Democrats had never run for office before and will face the voters with a two-year voting record in Washington.
It was clear in the most recent campaign cycle that the carpetbagger issue doesn’t work — just something for recruiters to remember.
Two major factors in the next campaign: the presence of Donald Trump at the top of the 2020 Republican ticket, and the redrawing of congressional districts for the 2022 election.
Andy Kim, a former Obama White House staffer, now leads two-term Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-Toms River) by 3,427 votes, with about 6,500 provisional ballots still to be counted. About 60% of those provisional are from Burlington County, where Kim won 59% of the vote. That makes a MacArthur win highly unlikely.
New Jersey’s 3rd district already has 12,178 more Democrats than Republicans, but Trump could still carry the district in two years. He won by six points, 51%-45%, over Hillary Clinton. An October Monmouth University poll had Trump’s job approvals at 49%-49% in the district.
MacArthur could seek a rematch against Kim and would likely clear a Republican field if he wants a shot at reclaiming his seat. Well-liked by the White House, MacArthur may more easily find post-congressional employment satisfaction in the Trump administration.
Possible Republican candidates include: State Sen. Dawn Addiego (R-Evesham); Assemblyman Ryan Peters (R-Hainesport); Burlington County freeholder Kate Gibbs, who lost her seat this week; Assemblyman Gregory McGuckin (R-Toms River); and Al Leiter, a former major league baseball pitcher from Toms River whose name has been mentioned as a potential candidate for more than a decade.
The GOP has run two outside-the-box candidates before: ex-NFL star Runyan, who won the seat in 2010 and gave it up after two terns, and MacArthur, who was the mayor of Randolph in Morris County before heading to Ocean County to seek Runyan’s open seat.
One potentially strong candidate against Kim could be former Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, who lives just 24 miles away in Monmouth County. She carried the 3rd district during her 2017 campaign for governor against Phil Murphy. Ocean County Republican Chairman George Gilmore is a close Guadagno ally and while 54% of the general election voters live in Burlington County, 51% of the primary election voters are from Ocean. With a statewide fundraising base, Guadagno is the kind of candidate the National Republican Congressional Committee might like.
Democrat is Rep.-elect Tom Malinowski (D-Rocky Hill), who ousted five-term Rep. Leonard Lance by a narrow 51%-48% margin (5,845 votes) in a district the Democrats last won in 1954.
Republican insiders say their early front-runner is Senate Minority Leader Thomas Kean, Jr. (R-Westfield). He would enter the race with high name recognition and strong fundraising base.
Malinowski’s win puts some pressure on Kean to decide if he wants to go to Washington – he sought the 7th district seat eighteen years ago but lost the Republican primary – or possibly run for governor in three years.
The 7th district has 6,899 more Republicans than Democrats. Hillary Clinton won the 7th by a 48%-47% margin in 2016. An October Monmouth University poll had Trump’s local approvals at an upside-down 46%-51%.
Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick (R-Westfield) is also in the district, but he has shown a reluctance to jump into bids for higher office and would likely be content to see Kean go to Congress to give him a shot at the State Senate seat.
Other potential candidates include: Republican State Chairman Doug Steinhardt; State Sen. Michael Doherty (R-Oxford), who lives in the 5th but represents a large chunk of the 7th in the legislature; Assemblyman Erik Peterson (R-Franklin); Hunterdon County freeholder Matt Holt, whose grandfather, Clifford Case, held the 7th district seat before going to the U.S. Senate; former Roxbury mayor Tim Smith; and Warren County freeholder Jason Sarnoski, who mulled a challenge to Rep. Josh Gottheimer last year.
Two other possible candidates who fit the Kim/Malinowski mold of newcomers with no record: Millburn attorney Rosemary Becchi, a former tax counsel for the U.S. Senate Finance Committee; and Colin Newman, a vice president of Amazon-owned Audible and a former chief deputy counsel to Gov. Chris Christie.
Becchi, 51, worked for the chief counsel to the Internal Revenue Service and runs a group called Running Start, which helps young women develop political leadership skills.
Newman, 40, served as chief counsel to the New Jersey Assembly Republicans and worked on President George W. Bush’s White House staff.
Another outside-the-box candidate is Kathy Hugin, 57, a philanthropist and former Wall Street bond trader whose husband just spent $36 million on a U.S. Senate campaign. Kathy Hugin was a constant presence of the campaign trail this year. While she has the Hugin money, she doesn’t have the same baggage of running a drug company. (Kathy Hugin could also run in the 3rd, where the Hugin’s own a shore home in Mantoloking.)
There is virtually no chance than the 65-year-old Lance will attempt a comeback
Despite the magnitude of her victory on Tuesday, Rep.-elect Mikie Sherrill (D-Montclair) will still face a district that was drawn to send a Republican to Congress.
The 11th has 6,159 more Republicans than Democrats in a district that voted overwhelmingly for a Republican congressman seventeen times in a row. Trump won the district 48%-47% and had a 49%-48% approval rating in Monmouth University’s October poll.
Still, Sherrill won by a stunning 33,281 votes, 55%-43%. She carried Essex County by more than 20,000 votes, Morris by more than 12,000, Passaic by more than 1,000, and held her loss in Sussex to about 1,000. She also emerged as a human fundraising machine, raising more than $8 million.
To beat Sherrill, Republicans may need to find their own Sherrill: a candidate with a great story, no record to attack, and an ability to raise money. Former New York Jets football player Nick Mangold was recruited, albeit briefly, earlier this year. The GOP can take another crack at him.
The Republican short-list also includes 26-year-old Mendham Township Committeewoman Sarah Neibart, who just won her first full term on November 6. She was deputy campaign manager for Bob Hugin’s U.S. senate campaign and worked on campaigns for Chris Christie and Scott Garrett. Neibart has considerable fundraising contacts.
Other possible candidates include: trucking company executive Jerry Langer; state Sen. Kristin Corrado (R-Totowa); State Sen. Joseph Pennacchio (R-Montville); Assemblywoman Betty Lou DeCroce (R-Parsippany); Assemblyman Anthony Bucco (R-Boonton); Morris County Sheriff Jim Gannon; Morris County freeholder Tom Mastrangelo; Trump administration official and outgoing Morris County freeholder Christine Myers; car dealer Paul Miller; and Kate Whitman, a former Republican campaign staffer who now coaches women’s hockey at Pingry.
Two of the candidates for the 2018 Republican nomination could run again: Peter DeNeufville, who spent $1.3 million – most of it his own money; and Antony Ghee, a Navy JAG officer and investment banker.
Rep.-elect Jeff Van Drew (D-Middle) won his seat by what looked like a narrow 52%-46% margin against Republican Seth Grossman, but that race was not as close as it looked. Grossman ran behind more than 14,000 votes behind Republican U.S. Senate candidate Bob Hugin, and more than 10,000 votes behind GOP candidates for freeholder.
Still, look for Grossman to run again in 2020. And Republicans are no closer to having someone who could beat Van Drew than they were on Election Day November 2017 when Republican Frank LoBiondo announced that he was retiring after 24 years in Congress.
That could leave Grossman with a clear shot at the nomination, especially if no one really wants to fight him just for the chance of taking on Van Drew in a general.
Van Drew turns 66 in February and Republicans may just wait for him to retire, just like Van Drew patiently awaited LoBiondo’s departure.