For Andy Kim, it’s him vs. ‘party elites’ in battle for U.S. Senate seat

January 29, 2024 7:12 am

Rep. Andy Kim speaking to a crowd of supporters at Papillon 25 in South Orange on Jan. 26, 2024. (Photo by New Jersey Monitor)

Rep. Andy Kim became something of a household name for progressives nationwide on Jan. 7, 2021.

That’s when an Associated Press photographer snapped an image of Kim (D-03) on his hands and knees inside the U.S. Capitol, removing debris left behind when a mob of Donald Trump supporters ransacked the building while attempting to halt certification of President Biden’s 2020 victory over Trump.

Three years later, Kim’s bit of housekeeping has not been forgotten.

Denville man Bob Grant won applause from a roomful of Democrats in Morris County on Jan. 20 when he thanked Kim for “cleaning up the Capitol.” Kim was speaking to Democrats there to seek support for his bid for the Senate seat now held by Sen. Bob Menendez.

For Kim, first elected to the House in 2018 to represent a conservative South Jersey district that twice voted for Trump for president, the Jan. 6 Capitol riot represents an attack on democracy not unlike one being waged by New Jersey Democratic party officials in this year’s Senate race.

“We cannot be a party that claims to and champions the idea of protecting democracy if we are not fixing it here in New Jersey,” Kim told a crowd of supporters at a campaign rally at South Orange martini bar Papillon 25 on Friday. “We cannot be a party that says we’re standing up to Trump, we’re standing up against what happened with that assault on our Capitol, but then find ourselves here in New Jersey having Democratic party leaders and party elites trying to put their thumb on the scale of this election.”

Kim is referring, of course, to the stampede of Democratic party leaders who have flocked to support his chief rival for the Senate seat, First Lady Tammy Murphy. New Jersey’s unique ballot design gives candidates backed by party bosses a key — some would say insurmountable — advantage, one Murphy is expected to enjoy in June’s primary (Larry Hamm and Patricia Campos-Medina are the other Democrats in the race).

“Our party needs to stand for fairness, needs to stand for democracy, it needs to stand for equality, it needs to stand for these values everywhere. We cannot be hypocritical, we cannot be inconsistent, and we cannot deviate when it’s something that benefits us. We have to show that we are a party of integrity,” Kim said Friday.

The South Orange rally was much like any other hosted by progressives in recent months: an emcee who called Donald Trump’s election as president a “traumatic moment;” free “facts matter” buttons and pocket U.S. Constitutions; and a surprise appearance by protestors who demanded Kim call for a cease-fire in Gaza (Kim halted his speech to the crowd to speak directly to the protestors and they appeared to leave without incident).

So far, Kim’s pitch to voters is that he’s the normie in the race. He’s the son of immigrants and a public school kid who’s raising his kids down the street from where he grew up, he notes. He’s a native New Jerseyan who is humbled by the support he receives, but he’d much rather be at home with his wife and his young sons than at campaign rallies, he says.

“Sometimes I wonder, am I not being there for them, am I not being the kind of father to them that they need at their young ages, first grade and third grade? But the way that I come across it, the way that I see it when I see all this craziness that’s happening in our country right now, is I say that I might not be the tuck-them-into-bed-every-night kind of dad, but I’m going to be the fight-for-their-future kind of dad,” Kim said in South Orange.

First Lady Tammy Murphy is one of four Democrats seeking to replace Sen. Bob Menendez in the U.S. Senate. (Rich Hundley III/Governor’s Office)

Kim’s bashing of the county line system rankles the Murphy camp, which calls it hypocritical. They note that he ran on the line “in every single election he’s ever run in” (he ran unopposed in the Democratic primaries in two of his three House races) and is actively seeking the line this time, too. They also characterize Murphy’s support from party officials differently than Kim does.

“Tammy has spent years building strong relationships up and down the state, helping to strengthen the Democratic Party in New Jersey, deliver services to working families that need them, and engage deeply with diverse communities throughout New Jersey. They know that she will be there to fight for them in Washington, just as she has right here in New Jersey,” Murphy campaign spokeswoman Alex Altman said.

Barbara Gross Franklin attended the Morris County event with Andy Kim at the County College of Morris. Franklin, a member of Morris County’s Democratic committee, said she felt she could live with Murphy as a senator but thinks Kim is a superior choice. She, like Kim, thinks the Murphys are using their influence to tilt the scales in the first lady’s favor.

“I am very disappointed, actually, in Phil Murphy because I have adored him as governor and thought he always did right by New Jersey, until he did this with his wife and he lines up the county bosses. And I think that was an unfair game to play, especially when you have such a superstar like Andy Kim,” she said.

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Terrence T. McDonald
Terrence T. McDonald

Editor Terrence T. McDonald is a native New Jerseyan who has worked for newspapers in the Garden State for more than 15 years. He has covered everything from Trenton politics to the smallest of municipal squabbles, exposing public corruption and general malfeasance at every level of government. Terrence won 23 New Jersey Press Association awards and two Tim O’Brien Awards for Investigative Journalism using the Open Public Records Act from the New Jersey chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. One politician forced to resign in disgrace because of Terrence’s reporting called him a "political poison pen journalist.”