Senate Minority Leader Thomas H. Kean, Jr. (R-Westfield) will not seek re-election to a seventh term in the State Senate, a move that signals an intention to run for Congress next year in New Jersey’s 7th district in a rematch with Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-Ringoes).
Kean confirmed his plans in a brief telephone interview with the New Jersey Globe.
Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick (R-Westfield) has said he will run for the Senate if Kean does not, setting up an open Assembly seat in the politically competitive 21st district.
Today’s announcement is only about his State Senate seat. He has not said he would run against Malinowski in 2022.
Kean will complete the remainder of his current Senate term and stay on as minority leader until January 2022.
In 2020, Kean came within 5,311 votes, 50.6% to 49.4%, of unseating Malinowski.
He raised $3,895,267 as a congressional candidate last year.
Insiders from both parties think Kean’s had a good chance to defeat Malinowski in a mid-term election after Democrats had controlled the White House, the Senate, and the House and without Donald Trump on the ballot
Joe Biden carrying the 7th by 12 points, 55%-43%, with Kean outpolling Trump in every municipality but Dover.
“Public service will always be a part of who I am and how I live my life, but after thoughtful discussion with my family, I have decided not to seek re-election for the State Senate in the 21st legislative district,” Kean said. “It has been an honor to serve these communities and I will always cherish the countless friendships and memories we have made together. I am committed to continuing a bipartisan approach as a leader throughout the remainder of this term and will work every day to deliver solutions for my constituents.”
Kean, 52, has served in the legislature since winning a 2001 special election convention for the Assembly. He moved up to the Senate in 2003 in another special election convention and has served as minority leader since 2008.
His retirement from the legislature allows Kean to focus full-time energies on fundraising for a House race without the encumbrances of running for office this year.
As he mulls a rematch against Malinowski, Kean must deal with the uncertainties of congressional redistricting.
All twelve New Jersey districts must be redrawn after the results of the 2020 U.S. Census are certified. Kean doesn’t know if the 7th will become better or worse than it is right now.
But Kean has an ability to impact some of his own destiny.
As Senate Minority Leader, Kean will name two of the six Republicans on the independent commission that draws the new districts.
Bramnick, as minority leader, will also fill two seats, with the other two going to either Republican State Chairman Michael Lavery or whomever likely GOP gubernatorial candidate Jack Ciattarelli picks after the June primary.
Republicans have said since November that Kean is their top priority for redistricting, if he runs again against Malinowski.
Kean is the son of popular two-term governor Thomas H. Kean. If he wins, he’ll be the first member of his storied New Jersey political family to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives since January 1959 , when his grandfather, Rep. Robert W. Kean (R-Livingston) left public office after 20 years as an Essex County congressman.
Another Republican, 2020 U.S. Senate candidate Rik Mehta, announced today that he will seek his party’s nomination to run against Malinowski.
Democrats have begun to eye the open Senate seat, although Bramnick has won the district nine times since entering the legislature in 2003 in a special election convention to succeed Kean.
Roselle Park Mayor Joseph Signorello has already announced his intention to run, and Eddie Donnelly, the president of the state firefighter’s union, is actively pursuing a Senate bid.
Kean becomes the third senator to announce a retirement this year.
Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg and State Sen. Christopher Bateman (R-Branchburg) are not seeking re-election to the Senate this year.