Rep. Andy Kim, right, who helped Democrats gain control of the House in 2019, seeks a third term against millionaire Republican Bob Healey Jr. (Courtesy of the Healey and Kim campaigns)
Republicans’ path to a majority in the House of Representatives could wind through New Jersey’s 3rd Congressional District, and Democrats’ path to keeping theirs certainly does.
In his bid for a third term, Rep. Andy Kim, a Democrat who worked for the federal government under Republican and Democratic administrations, faces a challenge from Republican Bob Healey Jr., a millionaire co-chairman of the Viking Yacht Company and related firms.
Race raters have pegged the incumbent as a favorite, but President Joe Biden’s flagging popularity, persistent inflation, and the backlash that usually rears its head against the party in control of the White House have kept some Republicans optimistic that an upset is possible.
“My assumption going into this year was always that it was going to be a challenging environment,” Kim said. “We knew that historically, just of every midterm that’s ever out there. I won in the midterm when the energy was going the other direction, so I’ve seen and felt what that could be like.”
Since 1993, party control of the 3rd District has shifted more than in any other congressional district in the state, most recently after the 2010 and 2018 midterm elections, when control of the district was ripped from the party in the White House. Kim was part of the anti-Donald Trump wave in 2018 that helped Democrats take control of the House.
Like other Republicans across the state and nation, Healey has looked to capitalize on voters’ anxiety about the economy and on inflation spurred, in part, by COVID-19 stimulus advanced under Biden.
But Healey has also looked toward cultural issues that have become touchstones for his party, like fears of crime and sex education curricula Republicans and some Democrats have charged are not age appropriate.
“These are issues my opponent, Andy Kim, doesn’t want to address — has not addressed — in interviews. On his commercials, he’s gone on the attack instead,” Healey said following a press conference with other GOP House candidates last week. “Timing’s important, but I also have a lot of faith in the voters of this district and the fact that I’m focusing on the issues that matter while my opponent is not.”
Last week, Healey jabbed Kim over the $10,000 cap on state and local tax deductions Republicans enacted in 2017. Kim broke a promise that he campaigned on in 2018 and 2020 to repeal the cap, Healey charged.
Democrats’ efforts to repeal the SALT cap have been stymied by opposition from within their own caucus, particularly from Kim’s fellows in the House Progressive Caucus, who’ve noted repealing the cap would disproportionately benefit wealthier filers.
With few exceptions, New Jersey politicos from both sides of the aisles have sought the cap’s repeal, though Kim said he finds the attack to be a strange one.
“I know I haven’t been in politics for that long, but I’ve never seen as ridiculous an attack as that,” he said. “It’s like if you start a fire and then you blame people because they can’t put out the fire. It’s his party.”
While Kim has aired some ads attacking his opponent, the incumbent has largely campaigned on his record in Congress, touting in particular prescription drug affordability provisions in the Inflation Reduction Act and related measures.
Like other Democrats, he has attacked his opponent over abortion, with Kim touting Healey’s support of the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade. Healey has said Kim’s abortion stance is “extremist.”
A silver lining from district lines
Though a Democratic victory is far from assured, Kim is likely to be buoyed by the 3rd District’s new boundaries. During last year’s redistricting, the district lost all its Ocean County towns and gained parts of Monmouth and Mercer counties, including Hamilton, one of the most populous municipalities in the state.
The changes make the district a friendlier place for Democratic candidates, though it’s something of a double-edged sword for an incumbent like Kim, who must now reintroduce himself to a new constituency.
Kim acknowledged the new lines had spurred some teething pains but said residents in the new portions of the district are ready for a new congressman.
“There’s a real hunger and excitement in this new part of the district, especially the parts like this area, a lot of Monmouth, and Hamilton,” he said following a meet-and-greet in Allentown. “That was under Chris Smith for a long time. He’s been in Congress longer than I’ve been alive, and I think there’s some excitement about being able to have some new representation that way.”
The loss of Ocean County towns is a blow to Healey. The district’s old boundaries created a simple dynamic: Democrats would fight to rack up margins in Burlington while Republicans did the same in Ocean, and the difference would decide the race.
But though Burlington Democrats turned out in great numbers when Trump was president — Trump’s tenure saw the party oust the all-Republican county commissioner board — with Trump gone, there’s no guarantee those areas will vote as they did before.
“I get more and more energized when I talk to people in places like Hamilton, places like Southampton, in placed like Marlboro,” Healey said. “There’s an energy with this campaign that keeps me going.”
Hamilton was under Republican control before Trump took office and flipped to Democratic control while he was president. In the last two presidential elections, a majority of the town’s voters cast ballots for the Democrat over Trump.
Kim has maintained the strong cash lead with which he began his campaign for a third term. Through Sept. 30, he outraised Healey by a margin of more than two-to-one, bringing in $6.2 million to the challenger’s $2.9 million.
The incumbent entered the final month of the race with $3 million left in reserves, nearly five times more than Healey’s $654,376.
Those figures do not include fundraising or spending in October, which will be reflected in pre-general filings set to be released Thursday.
Healey, who has already loaned his campaign at least $1.3 million, declined last week to say whether he was prepared to put more of his own money behind his bid, saying only that he would “do everything we can to get ourselves across the finish line.”
The challenger’s effort will be steeled some by independent spending in his race. Garden State Advance, a super PAC funded almost entirely by $2 million from Ellen Healey, the candidate’s mother, has already spent more than $1.6 million attacking Kim or boosting his opponent.
Separately, Healey appeared to suggest his campaign’s volunteer corps might preclude the need for further funds.
“We have the best volunteer base in the state, I would say maybe in the nation. They knock over 11,000 doors a week and make over 30,000 phone calls a week,” he said. “They’re doing over 30% of the work for the Republican Party in the state of New Jersey.”
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