The New Jersey Congressional Redistricting Commission voted to approve a Democratic-drawn congressional map this morning, allowing most of the state’s vulnerable Democratic incumbents to breathe a sigh of relief. But there’s one congressman who won’t be celebrating the advent of the new map: Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-Ringoes).
On the adopted map, Malinowski’s 7th district gains red territory in the state’s western reaches while losing several deep blue towns in the dense eastern suburbs. Under the current lines, President Joe Biden won the 7th district by 10 points, but the new map pushes his margin down to only four points.
The changes, while not unexpected, are unwelcome news for Malinowski, who was already facing a potential rematch against Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean Jr. (R-Westfield) – who is the favorite to win the GOP primary after nearly beating Malinowski in 2020 – and a House Ethics Committee inquiry into his stock trades.
Now, in a more Republican district and facing a midterm under a Democratic president, Malinowski’s political future is looking murkier than ever. A deep dive into the shift in district lines shows that while the sophomore congressman has a chance at victory and shouldn’t be counted out, the political winds are not in his favor.
What the district loses
The biggest losses for the 7th district are in its far eastern arm, where it grabs a number of Union County suburbs – among them Kean’s hometown of Westfield. Luckily for Kean, Westfield stays in the district, but Cranford, Garwood, Kenilworth all depart for the Newark-based 10th district, as does the part of Union Township that was in the 7th.
The loss of Union is especially jarring for Malinowski, who got 4,906 votes from the township in 2020, accounting for nearly all of his 5,329-vote majority overall. Cranford, Garwood, and Kenilworth are more of a wash; the former went for Malinowski, while the latter two voted for Kean.
Also gone from the 7th district is Millburn in Essex County, a blue suburb that will now be in Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-Montclair)’s 11th district. During the redistricting commission’s public hearings, a number of Millburn residents specifically advocated for the town to be kept in the 7th district, but to no avail.
Elsewhere in the state, the 7th district sheds Millstone, Montgomery, North Plainfield, and Rocky Hill, as well as parts of Hillsborough and Bridgewater, all of which will go to the safely Democratic 12th district. Much like Union Township, Montgomery was crucial for Malinowski in 2020, netting him 3,572 votes, and its loss will be keenly felt.
Finally, in Morris County, the 7th district will give Dover to the 11th district. Though much of western Morris County is Republican, heavily Hispanic Dover bucks the trend, and gave Malinowski a margin of nearly 40 points last year.
The towns that the 7th district loses, in other words, are mostly Democratic, or at the very least competitive. The same cannot be said for what the district is gaining in return.
What the district gains
To offset its losses in the east, the adopted map has the 7th expanding significantly in the west, gaining the remainder of Warren County alongside nine towns in Sussex County, seemingly in an effort to make both the 5th and 11th districts more Democratic.
Combined, the 24 towns the 7th district is adding gave Donald Trump a margin of around 12,000 votes, and represent the single greatest threat to Malinowski’s re-election chances.
However, the 7th district also gains Fanwood, Rahway, the rest of Scotch Plains, and part of Linden in Union County, which are Democratic enough to counteract some of the district’s new Republican territory. More exact calculations are complicated by the fact that precise municipality splits have not been released – and that, even if they were, vote-by-mail ballots aren’t allocated by precinct.
Also moved from the 11th to the 7th district are Mendham Borough and part of Mendham Township in Morris County, competitive municipalities which only provide margins of a few hundred votes in either direction.
The ultimate effect of the many changes is to make the district significantly more favorable to Republicans, particularly downballot. In 2020, Republicans won the combined congressional vote in the new 7th district by around three points – an imperfect measure, since it encompasses multiple Republicans running very different campaigns, but one that indicates Malinowski may well have lost under the new lines had they been in place last year.
At the same time, Democrats currently hold a number of seats more Republican than the 7th district, which may still trend further in their direction in future years. Malinowski has a path to winning in 2022, and even if he loses Democrats will have the opportunity to try again in 2024 and 2026, when the political environment could be more favorable.
But this cycle, it’s Team Kean that’s excited about their prospects.
“Tom Malinowski has repeatedly betrayed the public trust at a time when our state needs a Congressman and a Congress who will work for all of us,” Kean said in a statement released after the new map was unveiled. “Together, we can get our country on the right path, and New Jersey can lead the way.”
The Malinowski campaign, meanwhile, has yet to respond to a 1:02 p.m. request for comment on the new map and whether Malinowski intends to seek re-election at all.
This story was updated at 3:32 p.m. to reflect the fact that Fanwood and the remainder of Scotch Plains were also added to the 7th district.