New Jersey’s 7th Congressional District: A Democratic Dilemma

News: US News
by Jim Ellis  •  •  February 9, 2024   

Dems scramble for a contender against a tough GOP incumbent

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WESTFIELD, N.J. ( - New Jersey's 7th Congressional District, a swing seat according to all analytical metrics, is slated as one of the Democrats' key national conversion opportunities. Yet, the party leaders are having trouble finding a viable candidate to challenge Republican freshman U.S. Rep. Tom Kean Jr.

Former State Dept. official Jason Blazakis

The third Democratic candidate since last fall just ended his campaign in this bellwether district. Earlier this week, former State Department official Jason Blazakis became the latest 7th District Democratic candidate to end his challenge to Kean.

In late January, Summit Councilman Greg Vartan also suspended his congressional committee in the district. Roselle Park's mayor, Joseph Signorello, announced in October that he was dropping out.

The withdrawals leave only Sue Altman, the former Working Families Party state executive director, as the lone Democratic candidate. She sits far to the left on the ideological spectrum — particularly in light of the centrist 7th Congressional District's voting patterns.

Democratic Party leaders might make another recruitment push for former congressman Tom Malinowski, the man Rep. Kean unseated in 2022, to reconsider his plans and seek a rematch. Malinowski, a former State Department and National Security Council official, had been testing the waters for a U.S. Senate bid but ultimately decided not to run.

Recruiting Malinowski may be a long shot. The former congressman has made no discernible move to enter the House race, and Blazakis endorsed Altman on his way out.

Kean has been active in the off-year. According to his year-end 2023 candidate disclosure report, the congressman holds over $2.1 million in his campaign account after raising $2.7 million. This compares with Altman's year-end treasury of $531,000.

He is no stranger to running winning campaigns.

While the 2022 election was Kean's first successful run for Congress, he is a 22-year veteran of the New Jersey Legislature, where he served one term in the Assembly and four in the Senate. So he is no stranger to running winning campaigns.

7th District: Strong Republican Roots

New Jersey's 7th Congressional District is comprised of Hunterdon and Warren counties and parts of four others: Union, Somerset, Morris and Sussex. The area represented by the seat stretches from the Pennsylvania border on the west to the New York border on the east. The population is approximately 73% White, 11% Hispanic, 9% Asian and 6% Black.

The FiveThirtyEight data organization rates New Jersey's 7th District as leaning Republican by three percentage points, while Dave's Redistricting App calculates a lean toward the GOP of more than four and a half percentage points. President Biden, however, defied the district's voter history with a 51.1-47.3% victory there against then-President Trump in 2020.

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The 7th Congressional District has been affected by redistricting but has had a relatively consistent Republican legacy with its roots in Union County.

In 1980, Republican Rep. Marge Roukema — who died in 2014 — was first elected to represent the 7th District in Congress. That seat remained in GOP hands after she was redistricted to the 5th District two years later. The Republican congressional pattern for that seat remained intact for 38 years until Malinowski upset then-Rep. Leonard Lance in the 2018 general election.

The RNC is underperforming in the campaign resource battle.

Malinowski was reelected in 2020, beating Kean by just over one percentage point, but he fell to the Republican in 2022 with another close finish — a spread of just under three percentage points.

We can expect the Democrats to eventually field a strong candidate in the 7th District, but Kean is a clear early favorite for reelection in 2024.

Trump Recommends New GOP Chair

Michael Whatley

As reports intensify that Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel will be leaving the RNC after the South Carolina primary, former President Donald Trump has recommended a replacement.

Media outlets are reporting that North Carolina Republican Party Chairman Michael Whatley is Trump's choice, largely because he was "so powerful on election fraud" in 2020, according to the ex-president's statement.

It is a virtual certainty that RNC members will adopt Trump's recommendation, but the question to be asked is how strong Whatley is as a fundraiser. While Trump may be most concerned with his election fraud narrative, the RNC is underperforming in the campaign resource battle and must quickly regroup financially.

New Poll Projects Arizona Tie

Blake Masters, previously a Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate, is now campaigning to succeed retiring Rep. Debbie Lesko in Arizona's 8th Congressional District.

An internal poll by Fabrizio, Lee & Associates shows Masters tied with Abe Hamadeh, the 2022 attorney general nominee, with each receiving 24% support. Masters was defeated by Sen. Mark Kelly in the last election, while Hamadeh narrowly lost his race by only 280 votes.

It is expected to be one of the most critical U.S. Senate races of 2024.

Additionally, Waseem Hamadeh has announced a $1 million contribution to a Super PAC supporting his brother Abe Hamadeh's campaign, indicating a competitive primary ahead of the Aug. 6 election.

With 12 Republicans, including former representative Trent Franks, vying for the nomination, Masters and Hamadeh are leading early in the race.

Given the FiveThirtyEight rating of Arizona's 8th District as strongly Republican — leading by 22 percentage points — the winner of the Republican primary is expected to be the front-runner in the general election.

Former Montana-Congressman Comeback?

Republican U.S. Rep. Matt Rosendale, R-Mont., has declared his candidacy for the U.S. Senate, prompting a flurry of activity among Republicans aiming to fill his seat in Montana's eastern House district.

U.S. Rep. Matt Rosendale

State Auditor Troy Downing and State Senate President Pro Tempore Ken Bogner, R-Miles City, are running, with a possibility of others joining the contest soon, including some former state legislators.

Additionally, Denny Rehberg, a former U.S. representative and lieutenant governor with 12 years of congressional experience, may become a contender. Rehberg, who served in the House from 2000 to 2012 before an unsuccessful Senate bid, has a lengthy political history, including six years as lieutenant governor and three terms in the Montana House of Representatives.

Others may still jump into the race, whose candidate filing deadline is March 11.

The Republican Party appears to be rallying behind Tim Sheehy, an aerospace company CEO and retired Navy SEAL, as its preferred candidate.

The chosen Republican nominee will face off against Democratic Sen. Jon Tester. It is expected to be one of the most critical U.S. Senate races of 2024.

Jim Ellis, creator of The Ellis Insight website and senior political analyst for the Business-Industry Political Action Committee, analyzes and reports on U.S. electoral politics. He has a background in political consulting, managing political campaigns and action committees. Ellis is a regular speaker and media contributor on electoral topics, appearing on various radio shows and TV programs. He hosts Church Militant's The Ellis Insight — a video podcast identifying emerging campaign and election trends.


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