Republican New Jersey Rep. Leonard Lance is defending the seat he’s held for nearly a decade against Democrat Tom Malinowski, an American diplomat and human rights leader, in one of this year’s tightest congressional races.
The Cook Political Report still considers New Jersey’s Seventh Congressional District, which includes all of Hunterdon County and parts of five others, to be a tossup. But recent polls give the edge to Malinowski and could be a bad omen for the GOP.
A New York Times-Siena College poll of 503 people conducted from Oct. 28 to Oct. 31 found that Malinowski opened up a commanding lead — 47 percent to 39 percent. A Monmouth University poll of 356 people conducted from October 25 to 29 gives Malinowski a slight lead — 47 percent to 44 percent. The small sample size in each case could be a source of error, but taken together show that the race has tilted in Malinowski’s favor.
President Trump is profoundly unpopular in the Garden State. A Quinnipiac University Poll found that only 33 percent of voters approve of Trump while 63 disapprove.
In an interview with Yahoo News, Malinowski said the overarching issue in this election is checks and balances: Does the United States want to have a one-party government over the next two years or a Congress that can exercise an effective check when the administration goes too far?
“I think most Americans, most voters in our district, would rather have more balance this year and they have an opportunity to vote for that in our swing district by voting for change,” he said.
Malinowski has spent most of his career advocating for human rights. He worked in the Obama administration as the assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor from 2014 until 2017 and as Human Rights Watch’s advocacy director in Washington before that. He has been highly critical of Trump and his Republican supporters in Congress. The Democrat argued that Lance may not embrace ascendant far-right ideas but hasn’t done anything to stop them either.
“He is not an extreme right-wing Republican but he enables them to govern the country, that’s the bottom line. He’s never been able to exercise an effective check on the more extreme elements in his party. His function in Washington is to vote for them to remain in the leadership in the House of Representatives and continue policies that are bad for New Jersey and bad for the country,” Malinowski said.
Lance served in New Jersey’s senate and general assembly before being elected to Congress in 2008. He portrays himself as a low-tax, small-government conservative but has to walk a fine line between distancing himself from Trump’s brash rhetoric and not alienating his base.
He does not support the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) or high taxes but still opposed the Republican Party’s attempts to remove both. The GOP’s unsuccessful health care bill (the American Health Care Act) would have left 500,000 more New Jersey residents without insurance. Their tax plan’s cap on State and Local Tax (SALT) deductions are also going to hit New Jersey hard.
The Lance campaign depicts Malinowski of being a “liberal, name-calling Pelosi partisan” with stronger ties to Washington, D.C., than New Jersey.
“Tom Malinowski was hand-picked by Nancy Pelosi to run for Congress. Pelosi convinced the nearly 30-year resident of Washington and former lobbyist to come to New Jersey where Malinowski quickly rented an apartment and bullied his way through the primary,” Jim Hilk, manager of the Lance campaign, said in a statement. “The reality is both Nancy and Tom are D.C. liberals who live in D.C. houses, breathe D.C. air and pay D.C. property taxes.”
Major issues for voters in the socially liberal but traditionally Republican seventh district include taxes and the impact of last year’s tax reform bill, the rising cost of healthcare and gun violence.
“Republicans are promising to try again to repeal the Affordable Care Act. They said again that they have no intention of repealing or amending the tax reform bill from last year and they are promising to pay for the deficit that the tax bill created by robbing money from Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, which also would be very damaging to voters in the state of New Jersey,” Malinowski said.
Malinowski said he wants the United States to continue standing for the values its known for at home and abroad, including constitutional democracy and an independent judiciary and press.
“It’s a whole range of values that define who we are as Americans,” Malinowski said. “I think my human rights background helps in part because that’s one issue that has been bipartisan in America for many years. It’s enabled me to forge relationships with people on both sides. We desperately need that in the next couple of years.”
Malinowski has out-raised Lance — $1,940,823 to $778,580 — and said his campaign knocked on a quarter-million doors. But it’s still a traditionally Republican district.
“I’m feeling fairly confident. It is a close race. We always knew that it would be,” Malinowski said. “It will all be up to the voters.”
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