The appointment of a veteran New Jersey political operative as political director of the National Republican Congressional Committee could boost Senate Minority Leader Thomas Kean, Jr.’s potential candidacy for Congress and provide increased national interest in other New Jersey House races in 2020.
Justin Richards, named to the post by incoming NRCC chairman Tom Emmer (R-Minnesota), started his political career as Kean’s driver on the 2006 U.S. Senate race. He then managed Kean’s 2007 State Senate re-election campaign and served as executive director of New Jersey Senate Republican Majority in 2011 and 2013.
Richards managed the 2012 re-election campaign of Rep. Sean Duffy (R-Wisconsin) and has served as political director of the Republican State Leadership Committee, the RNC’s local elections arm, since 2013.
Kean, 50, is considering a challenge to Rep.-elect Tom Malinowski (D-Rocky Hill). Malinowski unseated five-term Rep. Leonard Lance (R-Clinton) last month in the Republican-leaning 7th district.
Richards’ presence at the NRCC could mean enormous political and financial support for Kean if he decides to challenge Malinowski.
If Republicans want to take back control of the U.S. House of Representatives in two years, they will need to compete in several New Jersey races.
Early candidate recruitment will be a focal point for national and state Republicans over the coming months.
Rep.-elect Mikie Sherrill (D-Montclair), a former U.S. Navy helicopter pilot and assistant U.S. Attorney, got into the race against Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-Harding) in early 2017. Her early fundraising success – Sherrill raised $1.2 million a year before the election — helped push Frelinghuysen into retirement.
Two other first-time candidates won as well: Malinowski, who had served as Assistant U.S. Secretary of State, and Rep.-elect Andy Kim (D-Marlton), a former Obama White House staffer who defeated two-term Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-Toms River).
Republicans are also looking for strong challengers to Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-Wyckoff) and Rep.-elect Jeff Van Drew (D-Dennis).