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New Jersey map puts Democrat Malinowski in tougher district

Map drafted by Democrats could leave Gottheimer, Sherill safer

Rep. Tom Malinowski, D-N.J., narrowly won reelection in 2020, and his district will pick up more Republican-leaning voters in 2022 under a new map adopted Wednesday.
Rep. Tom Malinowski, D-N.J., narrowly won reelection in 2020, and his district will pick up more Republican-leaning voters in 2022 under a new map adopted Wednesday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

New Jersey finalized a congressional district map Wednesday morning that could give Republicans a chance to reclaim a seat that Democrats flipped in 2018, and narrowly held onto last year.

The new map, approved by the court-appointed tiebreaker on the state’s 12-member bipartisan commission, shuffles communities among three Democrat-held seats in North Jersey. The result  leaves second-term Rep. Tom Malinowski with tougher reelection prospects next fall, while removing some of the most heavily Republican parts of the districts of Reps. Mikie Sherrill and Josh Gottheimer

Republicans and Democrats on the commission each submitted drafts to former state Supreme Court Justice John E. Wallace Jr., who said Wednesday both delegations drew maps that favored Democrats overall, and “fairness dictated” that he select Democrats’ map after Republicans’ map won last decade.

Republicans on the panel, led by former gubernatorial candidate and state committee chair Doug Steinhardt, criticized the new map for leaning in favor of Democrats.

“To be candid, we are disappointed in the final result. We are disappointed in the process that disenfranchises most of the state’s voting population,” Steinhardt said. “We are equally disappointed in a process that purported to promote equity, fairness and competition but in the end skewed those virtues.”

Malinowski’s 7th District would see some of the largest changes under the new map, gaining rural areas in northern and northwestern New Jersey that were in Gottheimer’s 5th District.

Malinowski’s campaign could not be immediately reached for comment Wednesday.

Malinowski first won his seat in 2018, defeating Republican Rep. Leonard Lance by 5 percentage points. Malinowski held onto the seat in 2020 against state Senate Minority Leader Thomas Kean Jr. by 1.2 percentage points. 

Kean has sought a rematch and may face an easier election under the new map. Malinowski had $2.1 million in his campaign account on Sept. 30, after raising nearly $2.6 million since the beginning of the year. Kean, the son of a two-term former governor, had $606,000 in his campaign account on Sept. 30.

Sherrill’s district would gain several Democratic-leaning Newark suburbs. Gottheimer’s district also gained several Democratic-leaning towns along the Hudson River, including Fort Lee.

The map also sends several Republican-leaning areas from Democratic Rep. Andy Kim’s midstate 3rd District into Rep. Jeff Van Drew’s South Jersey 2nd District. Van Drew flipped the District when he was first elected as a Democrat in 2018 to succeed GOP Rep. Frank LoBiondo. Van Drew switched parties at the end of 2019 because he opposed the effort to impeach then-President Donald Trump. He was targeted by Democrats for defeat last year but won a second term by nearly 6 points. 

Van Drew’s seat now encompasses much of the Jersey Shore from Cape May up into Ocean County.

The Mercer County home of 20-term Rep. Chris Smith, who until Van Drew’s party switch was the only Republican left in the delegation, will be in the realigned 3rd District represented by Kim. But many of the communities that gave Smith his biggest election margins, including retirement communities in Monmouth and Ocean counties, remain in the 4th District he now represents.

States have finalized new districts for more than half of the House of Representatives as of Wednesday. A net loss of five Democratic seats next year would hand the House over to Republicans and experts said redistricting efforts could make the difference with control so tight. 

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