Republican Phil Rizzo, a conservative pastor and real estate developer who ran for governor last year, has entered the race to challenge Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-Ringoes) in New Jersey’s 7th district.
Last month, Rizzo had announced a bid to take on Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-Montclair) in the next-door 11th district, but a new congressional map made the 7th more friendly to Republicans while giving Republicans less of a chance to win the 11th.
“It comes as no surprise to patriots across New Jersey that the redistricting process was controlled by insiders determined to maintain their grip on power. The scales were tipped in favor of protecting the progressive Democrats’ hold on our state,” said Rizzo. “While I was looking forward to taking on Mikie Sherrill … I’m going to bring that same fight to bear against Tom Malinowski.”
In his announcement, Rizzo took aim at Washington, D.C.
“Biden and the Left have run over our economy, destroyed our businesses, trampled our civic and medical rights, and created crisis after crisis after crisis,” he said. “Afghanistan, skyrocketing prices, and COVID-19 vaccine mandates, all happened within one year of Biden’s regime.
Rizzo finished second in the 2021 Republican gubernatorial primary, but lost to Jack Ciattarelli by 80,007 votes, a 49.5% to 25.7% margin. He fell one-day short of qualifying for matching funds and Ciattarelli carried all 21 counties in the four-way race.
The Republican front-runner is former Senate Minority Leader Thomas H. Kean, Jr., who is came within one percent of unseating Malinowski in 2020.
“We need a true Conservative candidate who isn’t afraid to fight for what everyday people in the district want,” stated Rizzo. “I am ready to take back our Congress.”
Rizzo enters the race with legitimate challengers for conservative votes in the Republican primary.
Assemblyman Erik Peterson (R-Franklin), one of the most conservative members of the New Jersey Legislature, said last week that he would seek the 7th district House seat. Peterson has served in the State Assembly since 2009 and is a former Hunterdon County freeholder.
John Henry Isemann, a 27-year-old Long Valley resident who left his Wall Street job to head up a humanitarian effort in Guatemala, joined the race in November. Fredon Mayor John Flora had initially announced a run against Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-Wyckoff) but switched races after his hometown was redistricted into the 7th.
Congressional redistricting shifted Malinowski’s district six points to the right by removing heavily Democratic towns in Union and Essex Counties and replacing them with Republican turf in the state’s sparsely populated west. Gov. Phil Murphy won 43.7% of the vote in the new 7th.
In his announcement statement, Rizzo took aim at Kean and his family.
“He’s a hack, establishment politician who expects this seat to be handed to him. I don’t expect New Jerseyans to buy what Kean is selling. This seat belongs to the people of New Jersey, not to a decades-old family dynasty.”
Kean gave up his seat in the legislature, where he’d served since 2001, to concentrate on his race against Malinowski. He comes from one of the state’s most prominent political families: his father was a popular two-term governor, his grandfather spent 20 years in Congress, and his great-grandfather was a U.S. Senator.
The Kean campaign was quick to make the case against Rizzo.
“Phil Rizzo waxes poetic about leading a new grassroots conservative movement while he sits beside one of his three fireplaces that he doesn’t pay taxes on, but the truth is he is just a snake oil salesman,” said Harrison Neely, a spokesman for Kean. “After a lot of tough talk, he ran away from the fight in NJ-11 with his tail between his legs. He’s no conservative fighter, he’s just a politician trying to swindle his way to relevancy.”
As a candidate for governor, Rizzo faced criticism for converting his $1.6 million home in Harding Township into a parsonage for the small church he led about 45 minutes away in Hudson County so that he could sidestep paying property taxes.
Citing court documents, POLITICO reported last week that Rizzo failed to pay a longtime lien against him when he sold his home to his church.
Rizzo left his ministry last year to run for governor but still lives in the Harding home.
It’s not immediately clear if Rizzo will compete for organization lines in Hunterdon, Morris, Somerset, Union and Warren counties. Sussex has an open primary.
“They want it both ways. New Jersey’s ruling class wants us to give them the keys to the kingdom, but all they do once they get to Trenton or Washington is lock us out,” Rizzo said. “The results of the 2021 elections made one thing clear: the establishment was put on notice by patriots from every corner of New Jersey.”
Malinowski announced on Monday that he would seek a third term in a district that has lost several Democratic anchors – Millburn, Union Township, Montgomery and Dover – and replaced them with parts of staunchly Republican municipalities in Warren and Sussex.
“Once more unto the breach, dear friends,” Malinowski said, citing another leader attempting to defy the odds: King Henry V in Shakespeare’s Henry V.
Since that first narrow win against Kean, Malinowski has also become embroiled in a stock-trading scandal, though the House Ethics Committee has not yet determined if Malinowski committed wrongdoing.
But despite the obstacles to a third term, Malinowski has already begun waging an aggressive campaign, attacking Kean for his party’s support of Donald Trump and raising a huge $900,000 in the fourth quarter of last year.
Malinowski has a $2.7 cash-on-hand heading into his re-election year.
On Monday, his last day in the New Jersey Senate, Kean voted against a bill that would codify the right to an abortion in New Jersey. Malinowski has promised to make that an issue.
Kean has also deftly avoided questions about how he would have voted on Trump’s impeachment, the certification of the 2020 presidential election results, or the creation of a special commission to investigate the events at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021.
The former senator has scored endorsements from House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, and Republican Conference Chair Elise Stefanik.
Former Republican U.S. Senate candidate Rik Mehta dropped out of the 7th district race and has announced a challenge to House Energy & Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-Long Branch) in the 6th.
Rizzo’s withdrawal leaves six GOP candidates in the race against Sherrill: Morris County Commissioner Tayfun Selen; Morris County Republican State Committeeman Larry Casha; former Assistant Passaic County Prosecutor Paul DeGroot; former Ridgefield Park Councilman Robert Kovic; attorney Larry Friscia; and screenwriter Hillery Brotschol.
Another 11th district candidate, former Republican National Committee staffer Thomas Toomey, has also switched to a race against Pallone.