Home>Highlight>Stomping Grounds: Malinowski’s announcement; ’24 House race; Influencing primaries for the other party; and Social Media trails

Stomping Grounds: Malinowski’s announcement; ’24 House race; Influencing primaries for the other party; and Social Media trails

By David Wildstein, May 26 2023 12:58 pm

New Jerseyans aren’t always civil, but it’s still possible for a liberal Democrat and a conservative Republican to have a rational and pleasant conversation about politics in the state.  Dan Bryan is a former senior advisor to Gov. Phil Murphy and is now the owner of his own public affairs firm, and Alex Wilkes is an attorney and former executive director of America Rising PAC who advises Republican candidates in New Jersey and across the nation.  Dan and Alex are both experienced strategists who are currently in the room where high-level decisions are made.  They will get together weekly with New Jersey Globe editor David Wildstein to discuss politics and issues.

New Jersey Globe: Tom Malinowski has decided not to seek a rematch with Tom Kean, ending the prospects of Tom vs. Tom, Part 3.  That doesn’t change NJ-7 being one of the premier House races in the U.S.  What happens now?

Alex Wilkes: Malinowski was a flawed candidate for this particular district. He skewed too far to the left ideologically and focused on too many niche foreign and progressive issues for a middle-of-the-road constituency.

Given the tight turnaround time for preparing for these races, though, I do still think it’s a loss for national Democrats, who could have counted on his national fundraising profile in trying to reclaim a majority.

More than anything, I think it shows that Democrats generally do not have a lot of confidence in the top of their ticket next year. With a worsening economy and an ailing octogenarian leading the way, I think I might stick to day trading, too.

Congressman Kean has proven to be a strong fit for this district, sticking to kitchen table issues that New Jerseyans truly care about right now. I think it will be tough to put someone up against his record, especially in this environment.

Dan Bryan: All eyes will be on CD7, and rightfully so. Congressman Kean is entering his first election as a vulnerable incumbent with tremendous baggage from his far-right majority in Washington, and his strong fundraising showings won’t be enough to cover for his fatal flaws. He ran a deceitful campaign to get elected, and I’m sure he’s not above stooping low again to get reelected. But if Democrats put forward a good effort with a strong candidate, there’s no doubt they can win.

As far as potential candidates, I hear Sue Altman is interested in running, and I hope she does. Sue is energetic, dynamic, and would be a nightmare opponent for Congressman Kean. But whether it’s Sue or someone else, it’s critical they get moving immediately. Any serious candidate should announce in the next few weeks, if they want to give themselves enough time to raise the necessary funds and begin messaging.

NJ Globe: There are eleven other House races in 2024.  Will any of them be competitive?

Dan: In 2022, four NJ congressional races were targeted – CD3, CD7, CD11, and CD5. Next year, only one will be a target: CD7. Congressmen Kim and Gottheimer and Congresswoman Sherrill won by big enough margins in 2022 to scare off any serious challengers moving forward, meaning only one of our twelve congressional districts will be competitive in 2024.

Although the other 11 won’t be competitive in terms of outcome, it will remain critically important for all of those incumbents to ensure that their margins of victory are healthy. As soon as those double-digit margins drift toward mid or high single digits, the NRCC will start getting ideas. But I don’t expect any incumbent Democrats to take their elections for granted. The same energy, enthusiasm, and fundraising skills that turned those red districts to purple, and then blue, will keep them out of reach for national Republicans.

Alex: Look, I think that with the right environment and the right candidates, anything is possible — and I don’t mean that tritely. Without knowing what the top of the ticket, the slate of challengers, and the economic climate, it really is probably too soon to tell.

That being said, in assessing the situation right at this moment, I would say that many of these districts look facially uncompetitive thanks to one man: the corrupt Sam Wang from the Princeton Gerrymandering Project.

When Republican candidates claim nearly half of the state’s vote in statewide elections and have enough legislative seats to potentially earn a majority this year — but only a quarter of the state’s congressional seats? That’s a classic gerrymander.

Look at our neighbors in New York. There, the courts redrew maps that they deemed so unfair that they actually ripped them up just a few months shy of the election. Where did Kevin McCarthy find his majority?  The Hudson Valley, Long Island, and Upstate.  Tell me that those regions are all that different politically from the competitive regions here in New Jersey. They’re not. They just had a fighting chance under maps not drawn by a political sociopath.

NJ Globe: Republicans are crying foul over a super PAC connected to South Jersey Democrats that’s trying to influence the outcome of a GOP Senate primary.  Is this wrong, or is it smart politics?

Alex: I just think it’s especially laughable to watch while Democrats put themselves out there as the paragons of democratic virtue. I recall a certain House Speaker singing tearfully, arm-in-arm with the cast of Hamilton in the Capitol Rotunda, while sending her errand boys like Josh Gottheimer to engage in their own election interference in GOP primaries. They’re all complete scam artists.

It’s an effective technique, and it undoubtedly works, but in opening Pandora’s Box, Democrats better be careful when the tide inevitably turns.

Dan: I’ll admit to having a weak stomach for this tactic, but the bottom line is this: it works. Helping to ensure a weaker Republican opponent in the general election is helpful to getting Democrats elected, and getting Democrats elected is critical at every level right now.

So though it sometimes feels like Democrats are playing with fire and though I wouldn’t be surprised to see a day when it backfires, I can’t say that isn’t an effective method to electing more Democrats. Something tells me Bill Spadea will see more Democratic fundraising in the 2025 Republican gubernatorial primary than some Democrats will.

NJ Globe: There’s an obscure candidate for Camden County commissioner named Sam Sweet with a history of misogynistic, immature social media posts.  This seems to happen every cycle.  Why don’t people clean their social media before they run for office?

Dan: I think the issue is less the social media track record and more the fact that a person with a track record of posting misogynistic comments is running for office as a Democrat. We need to demand better of our candidates, especially among progressives. If they have a better candidate, they should swap them in now, and if they don’t, they shouldn’t expect to win. I know I wouldn’t vote for him.

Alex: I always tell candidates: consider every post you have ever made or shared online – on public AND private profiles – to be on-the-record statements that reporters and opposing campaigns can and will use against you.

For most of the older candidates online who make these comments, I admittedly have very little patience for this behavior — regardless of party.  Of course, we all make mistakes, but they grew up in a time and place with actual rules and protocol for public behavior, so it’s frustrating when you see decades of experience and common sense get thrown out for the thrill of one stupid comment online.

For the younger generations, I have more sympathy. I feel lucky enough to have spent my childhood with dial-up internet and no smartphones. Today, we don’t just lack social niceties, we actually encourage the most extreme and outrageous views to be expressed as publicly and audaciously as possible. Living out your whole life online has to be excruciating, and it will be interesting to see how time treats these emerging generations of leaders.

Editor’s note:  As the very pregnant Alex  Wilkes rapidly approaches another exciting chapter of her personal life, the New Jersey Globe wishes her the best – and we expresses our gratitude for reminding those of us who come from the mimeograph machine era that she endured a childhood with dial-up internet.

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