CLARK, NJ (PIX11) — The battle for New Jersey’s 7th congressional district is anticipated to be the closest election in the Garden State this year.
A two-term Democrat, who was really thrown to the wolves during re-districting by his own party, is facing the same Republican, with a famous last name, he beat two years ago.
“You’ve been in Trenton for 20 years what the hell of you done about the cost of living in New Jersey,” Democratic Congressman Tom Malinowski jabbed during a debate hosted by the Gateway Chamber of Commerce.
He was standing beside former Republican State Senator Tom Kean Jr., who shares a name with his father, the popular former governor.
“My opponent is afraid to admit he’s lived in Washington for the last 30 years,” Kean shot back during the same exchange.
The debate was a few weeks before Election Day– and marked a rare open public appearance by Kean. The Republican has also steered clear of local reporter interviews during the campaign.
Malinowski is making the case Kean is running and hiding because he is sympathetic to more conservative positions– especially the national Republican opposition to abortion.
“[They have] absolutely no plan to deal with this economic situation, but they do have a very specific plan to ban abortion,” Malinowski said.
Kean recently had to clarify his abortion stance after stumbling during a forum with the Jewish Federation of Metro-West New Jersey. He said the next day he supports abortion access up to 20 weeks.
“After 20 weeks, it’s the life and health of the mother, or rape and incest as an example, and I’ve supported those types of policies,” Kean said.
In general, when asked about abortion or former President Donald Trump, Kean pivots the conversation.
PIX11 asked if Kean would support the entire agenda of former President Trump, including positions on immigration and abortion.
“I would support and agenda that breaks the back of inflation, and has the backs of cops and secures the southern border,” Kean said. “Those are things I’ve talked about for numerous years, my opponent is trying to get around the fact that he has never stood up to Nancy Pelosi.”
That argument in a nutshell is the case that Kean is making: Malinowski has enabled the big spending of Democrats leading to inflation.
Kean is pitching that critique to a friendlier audience than he did two years ago when he lost to Malinowski by about 5000 votes.
New Jersey’s 7th congressional district now stretches from more populous Central Jersey communities, like Westfield, across the state to the more the sparsely populated counties of Warren and Hunterdon.
Democrats in the statehouse drew this map, and put thousands more registered Republicans in NJ-7 to make other neighboring Democratic districts safer.
However, Malinowski said not to count him out. He told PIX11 he views the race as a tossup.
The congressman defends all the Democratic spending, especially on infrastructure and advanced manufacturing, to helped get the country through the pandemic. He often critiques Kean for not having specific ideas for spending cuts. The Cook Political Report has this race as leaning toward Kean Jr.