The New Jersey Communist Party is looking to unseat two of New Jersey’s Republican congressmen, Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-Toms River) and Rep. Leonard Lance (R-Clinton).
In a March 29 posting, the group said it would focus its efforts on organizing to oust the two GOP House members.
In the seventh congressional district, front-runner Tom Malinowski, a former assistant secretary of state under the Obama administration, was quick to denounce the party’s support.
“Tom was born in a communist country, which he fled as a child for a better life here,” Malinowski’s campaign manager, Colston Reid, wrote in a text message. “That’s all that needs to be said about where he stands on this.”
Zack Carroll, campaign manager for Andy Kim, a former national security staffer in the Obama administration and the only Democrat running in the third congressional district, did not welcome the association but did not issue as harsh a rebuke as Malinowski.
“That Tom MacArthur would accuse Andy Kim, who has served under both Republicans and Democrats in war zones and in the Situation Room, of somehow being associated with communists, is pathetic and beneath the dignity of his office,” Carroll said in an emailed statement. “Then again, MacArthur has shown very little is beneath him, as he’s spent the past year causing healthcare premium increases and tax hikes for his constituents.”
But not all the candidates were so quick to distance themselves from the party. Goutam Jois, an attorney from Summit, New Jersey, said he was unaware of even the existence of a Communist Party in New Jersey.
“I’m not seeking their endorsement or anything,” Jois said. “Nobody’s reached out to me. If they’re interested in unseating Leonard Lance, so am I, but I have no knowledge of the Communist Party in New Jersey.”
Jim Hilk, Lance’s campaign manager, celebrated the Communist Party’s announcement and called on the other candidates to denounce its support.
“Leonard Lance is proud to earn the opposition of the Communist Party,” Hilk said in an emailed statement. “The widespread suffering and oppression caused by communists stands in stark contrast to Leonard’s bipartisan, problem-solving record. Every candidate in this race needs to reject the support of the Communist Party.”
In response, Jois issued a statement with a stronger condemnation of communism.
“Perhaps the one thing Congressman Lance and I agree on is that Communism led to the death and suffering of untold millions worldwide,” Jois said in an emailed statement. “But that doesn’t change the fact that Leonard Lance has let down this district time and again, trying to play a moderate on TV while hiding his far-right voting record.”
The New Jersey Communist Party did not return a request for comment, but a post made in 2016 on the party’s website states that it does not directly endorse candidates and instead seeks to encourage election participation.
Meanwhile, MacArthur’s solid hold on the state’s third congressional district, which he won by more than 20 points in 2016, may be threatened by his ties to the American Health Care Act of 2017, which would have allowed insurers to charge higher fees to older customers and eventually died in the Senate after narrowly passing a vote in the House.
Facing a strong challenge from Kim, MacArthur’s campaign did not hesitate to tie his opponent to the communist party when made aware of its stance.
“I would argue that saying you’re working to defeat someone rather than you’re working to help elect somebody, as far as I’m concerned, it’s a distinction without a difference as far as I can read it,” said Chris Russell, a consultant with the MacArthur campaign. “Let Andy Kim explain how that doesn’t mean the Communist Party’s endorsing him.”
“The Communist Party of NJ and Andy Kim share the same objective: defeat Tom MacArthur. Those are the facts,” Russell Continued. “If Andy Kim is uncomfortable with that, he should completely disavow the efforts of the Communist Party, not hurl more personal insults at Tom MacArthur.”
Democrats may be right to be wary of accepting support from the Communist Party, as such support could be used against them come November, said Ross Baker, a professor of political science at Rutgers University.
“I would have to think it’s a liability for the Democrats,” Baker said, referring to support from the Communist Party. “I think that there are times in which there are supporters you would just as happily disown.”
Still, Baker was unsure whether the association would have much effect on an election given how long it’s been since communism was seen as a threat to the United States.
“I think opposition research would sort of discount it unless there were certain kind of conspiracy-minded people who might think it would be of use to attach a Democratic candidate to the Communist Party,” Baker said. “It seems like such an archaic term that I just can’t imagine it having any impact at all.”
Ben Dworkin, founding director of Rowan University’s Institute for Public Policy & Citizenship, put it in clearer terms.
“There’s been no indication that this is a serious group in New Jersey politics,” Dworkin said. “I just don’t think that these guys are players at all.”