2020 Congressional Races Beginning to Heat Up Across the State

Labor Day weekend is when political campaigns traditionally hit high gear in the Garden State.

With races for the state Assembly topping this year’s ballots and only a handful those races expected to prove even somewhat competitive, next year’s congressional races are already beginning to heat up. While some members of the delegation may only face token opposition from the opposing party, it appears a few may have to fight primary challenges. It seems New Jersey may not be immune to the phenomena fueling ultra-left upstarts such as those elected to Congress the last go-around that have become known as “The Squad,” or “AOC (Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez) wing of the party.” 

Here’s a brief rundown of where things currently stand in each congressional district. All campaign account balances, or cash on hand (COH) are based on their latest Federal Election Commission filings (6/30/19). 

First District: Rep. Norcross

Rep. Donald Norcross (D-1) is running for a fourth term. He already has a Republican challenger, Joshua Duvall. The congressman has $1.3M COH to Duvall’s $5.5K. Apart from his token Republican opposition, some politic watchers see the potential for a Democratic primary challenge because of the persistent battle between Gov. Murphy on one side, and Norcross’s brother and state Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3) on the other. Some progressives see Working Families chief Sue Altman of Camden as a potential primary challenger.

Second District: Rep. Van Drew

First elected last year, Rep. Jeff Van Drew (D-2) wants a second term in 2020. He has $546K COH. Looking to take back the district they lost with the 2018 retirement of Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R-2), Republicans are already lining up to challenge Van Drew. They include Brian Fitzherbert, Robert Patterson, and David Richter. Seth Grossman who lost 46-52% to Van Drew last year could also get in the developing contest.

Third District: Rep. Kim

Rep. Andy Kim (D-3), who just barely unseated two-term incumbent Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-3) last year, wants a second term in the Ocean-Burlington district. Insiders are closely watching this year’s Assembly contest in LD-8. Republicans in particular are gauging the campaign strength of incumbent Asm. Ryan Peters (R-8), who could emerge as a GOP challenger to Kim. Former Burlington Freeholder Kate Gibbs, who lost countywide but has solid labor support, is another GOP option, and some party leaders may be leaning toward running a woman against Kim.

Fourth District: Rep. Smith

The “dean of the delegation” and the delegation’s lone Republican after last year’s mid-term election, Rep. Chris Smith (R-4) has announced he’ll seek a 21st term. Democrats thought they had a chance to unseat Smith last year when Democrat newcomer Josh Welle raised $1.8 million. Smith ultimately raised $1.5 million and won by 12 percentage points. Smith has $319,122 COH.

Although Welle has given no indication he’ll pursue a rematch, several Democrats have already entered the race including: David Applefield, a Financial Times writer from Red Bank; Tiffany Kaszuba, a Capitol Hill lobbyist from Howell; and Christina Conforti, a holistic leadership and business coach from Ocean Grove. Stephanie Schmid of Little Silver, an attorney at the Center for Reproductive Rights and former foreign service officer plans a September 7th campaign launch. Schmid interned in Smith’s office. 

The 4th is the only House district in the state to become more Republican over the last decade.

Fifth District: Rep. Gottheimer

The Fifth District may prove New Jersey’s ground zero in the tug of war between mainstream Democrats and the ultra-left “AOC wing of the party.” In his bid for a third term, moderate Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-5), a founder and co-chair of the bi-partisan Problem Solvers Caucus, will have to fend-off a primary challenge from his left. First-term Glen Rock councilwoman and neuroscientist Arati Kreibich will, with the backing of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and “The Squad,” challenge Gottheimer for the Democratic nomination. Two Republicans, Frank Pallotta and Mike Ghassali, have already announced their candidacies for the GOP nomination, and 2018 loser John McCann still has $59K in the bank.

Gottheimer’s challenge will be to placate those on the left without alienating the more moderate majority in a district he won from a seven-term Republican incumbent, but only because of that incumbent’s ultra-right, and anti-gay positions. A prolific fundraiser, Gottheimer already has a whopping $5.7M in his campaign war chest.

Sixth District – Rep. Pallone

With $2.5M COH, seventeen-term incumbent Rep. Frank Pallone (D-6) faces two primary challengers from the extreme left, John Hsu with $4k in the bank and Russell Cirincione. It’s hard to imagine the hugely popular Pallone being ousted in a primary, and there’s little chance of a credible challenge from the other side of the aisle come November.  

Seventh District: Rep. Malinowski

Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-7) has more than $1M COH. Liberal Malinowski will face a credible challenge from a Republican nominee in this otherwise moderate district. That challenger will most likely be state Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean, Jr. (R-21), son and namesake of the former governor and state’s most popular politician. Kean has $421K COH. While two others have announced bids for the GOP nomination, Kean has been aggressively securing endorsements from local party leaders and office holders and has not only the resources and contacts of his father, but those he’s earned in his own right as a state legislative leader and former statewide candidate for the U.S. Senate.   

Eighth District: Rep. Sires.

Rep. Albio Sires (D-8) has $182K COH and does not appear at this time to have a challenger, either in the primary or general election.

Ninth District: Rep. Pascrell

Twelve-term incumbent Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-9) has $1.5M in his campaign account and by recently joining “The Squad,” has attempted to neutralize a potential challenge from left. That said, he is expected to face three others in the Democratic primary, Englewood Mayor Michael Wildes ($791 COH), environmental activist Zina Spezakis ($26K COH) and corporate lawyer Alp Basaran. These challenges are probably more about positioning to succeed the 82-year-old Pascrell when he decides to retire than capturing next year’s nomination from the unusually energetic campaigner and very popular incumbent.   

Tenth District: Rep. Payne

Rep. Donald Payne, Jr. (D-10) has $92K COH. Two Democrats have opened campaign accounts, John Flora ($5K COH) and Eugene Mazo, as well as one Republican, Ana Rivera. A contest in arguably one the state’s bluest of counties seems highly unlikely, particularly in a district where many believe the Payne family name to be the gold standard for public service.

Eleventh District: Rep. Sherrill

With nearly $1.15M COH, political newcomer and overnight rock star, Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-11) has sucked up all the political oxygen in this former Republican stronghold. She’s a sure bet for re-election. That said, the moderate Sherrill is taking some heat from the left so a primary challenge is possible, though at this stage unlikely and even less likely to be successful. Republican Reinier Prijten, a manager at PricewaterhouseCoopers, has an account open with a $297 COH. To date, no other Republican has expressed an interest in jumping in this race.

Twelfth District: Rep. Watson Coleman

Having won the seat in 2014, Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-12) has $161K COH to pursue a fourth term. Last week, Old Bridge Councilman Mark Razzoli announced that he would be switching his party affiliation from Democrat to Republican to challenge the incumbent congresswoman claiming the Democratic Party has moved too far to the left.