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New Jersey GOP could pick up a House seat, maybe two

Malinowski faces Kean rematch in worse climate, tougher district

Rep. Tom Malinowski, D-N.J., faces a rematch this year against an opponent he beat by just over 1 percentage point in 2020.
Rep. Tom Malinowski, D-N.J., faces a rematch this year against an opponent he beat by just over 1 percentage point in 2020. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

ANALYSIS — After the electoral wave in 2010, Republicans controlled six of New Jersey’s 13 House seats. Today, there are just two Republicans in the delegation, and even a great midterm election in 2022 might only result in the GOP creeping up to three or four seats in the Garden State.

While it won’t be clear for another few cycles, 2018 may have been a watershed year for Democrats in New Jersey. Then-Democrat Jeff Van Drew took over Republican Rep. Frank LoBiondo’s open 2nd District. Democrat Andy Kim defeated GOP Rep. Tom MacArthur in the 3rd District, Democrat Tom Malinowski defeated GOP Rep. Leonard Lance in the 7th District, and Democrat Mikie Sherrill won GOP Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen’s open 11th District. 

That left Rep. Christopher H. Smith — the third longest-serving member of the House — as the only Republican in the delegation. It was the first time in more than a century that Republicans held no more than one seat in the New Jersey delegation. The GOP delegation doubled in size when Van Drew became a  Republican in 2019, but it’s still a paltry showing for the party. 

[More House race ratings  | Initial Senate race ratings]

The remaining trio of freshman Democrats won reelection in a tumultuous 2020 cycle, and two of them (Kim and Sherrill) get to run for third terms in more favorable districts. But their electoral safety came with a price. Malinowski faces a significant challenge in his reelection bid as his seat got less Democratic.

Overall, Republicans look poised to gain a single seat out of New Jersey, and potentially two if the political conditions are right. The GOP needs a net gain of just five seats to capture the House majority. 

3rd District (Andy Kim, D)

Kim is on the list of GOP takeover targets if a sizable electoral wave develops. The Democratic congressman won reelection in 2020 in a district President Donald Trump carried narrowly, 49.4 percent to 49.2 percent. Joe Biden would have won the newly drawn 3rd by 14 points, 56 percent to 42 percent, according to Jacob Rubashkin of Inside Elections. 

The new 3rd still includes some Philadelphia suburbs but also takes in a swath of Democratic territory in south Mercer County, near Trenton, and part of Monmouth County. Republicans are excited about their likely nominee, Bob Healy Jr., more because he has personal money to spend on a race than that he is the former frontman for Philadelphia punk band The Ghouls. 

Even with a better district, Kim will be prepared. He had $3.3 million in the bank on Dec. 31 compared to $469,000 for Healy. But Republicans are encouraged by 2021 GOP gubernatorial nominee Jack Ciattarelli’s narrow loss in this district (he lost by a slightly wider 3 points statewide). If the bottom falls out of the cycle for President Biden and the Democrats, and Kim is locked in a close race this fall, then Republicans are looking at gaining dozens of seats nationwide. Initial rating: Solid Democratic.

7th District (Tom Malinowski, D)

Malinowski narrowly won reelection in 2020, 50.6 percent to 49.4 percent, by a margin of 5,311 votes in a district Biden won by 10 points. Now, the congressman faces reelection in a worse political environment, against the same opponent (Republican Tom Kean Jr.) in a district that picks up rural, Republican-leaning areas in Warren and Sussex counties that had been part of fellow Democrat Josh Gottheimer’s 5th District. Biden would have carried the newly drawn seat by just 4 points. 

The congressman had the advantage in campaign cash at the end of December, $2.7 million to $933,000 for Kean. But Malinowski outspent his GOP foe $7.5 million to $3.8 million in 2020 and only won narrowly. 

Ciattarelli would have won this newly drawn seat by a considerable 13 points, 56 percent to 43 percent, in 2021, and Malinowski continues to be the subject of a House Ethics Committee investigation into his stock trading. That’s all fueling GOP optimism. Initial rating: Toss-up.

Races rated Solid Democratic

Races rated Solid Republican

Nathan L. Gonzales is an elections analyst with CQ Roll Call.

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