While the results of New Jersey’s congressional races pretty much aligned with pollsters’ predictions, there were some surprises yesterday. Three of four races that were considered possible flips from red to blue did just that, with the fourth — Republican Tom MacArthur’s seat in CD-3 — still unknown.
As expected, Democrat Mikie Sherill produced a big win in CD-11, taking the long-held seat of Republican Rodney Frelinghuysen, who chose not to run for re-election. Republican Leonard Lance had a narrow loss to Democrat Tom Malinowski in CD-7. And Jeff Van Drew won the 2nd district, even though his victory was much closer than predicted. If Democrat Andy Kim pulls it out against incumbent Republican Tom MacArthur in the 3rd district, it would leave only the 4th district with a Republican congressional representative from New Jersey, with Chris Smith winning his 20th term in office.
All incumbent Democratic congressional representatives won their races handily.
Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute, said this wasn’t a surprise, given that by and large the election was about President Donald Trump. “All of this is part and parcel of what we’re seeing statewide,” he said.
The two northern congressional flips from red to blue, he said, have similar characteristics. “They are both filled with moderate, college-educated women who are really unhappy with the direction of the country.”
The two other competitive races, those of MacArthur vs. Kim and Van Drew vs. Seth Grossman, are in South Jersey, in traditionally Republican districts.
It should be noted that after the 2010 U.S. Census, the state was redistricted and gerrymandered to have a likely makeup of six Democratic and six Republican districts. Although Democrats do outnumber Republicans statewide, the state will have at least 10 Democrats in the House of Representatives.
Here’s a breakdown of each of the races.
3rd Congressional District
In the one race yet to be called, both U.S. Rep. Tom MacArthur and his Democratic challenger, Andy Kim, waited anxiously for four hours at their respective camps to hear the outcome but left around midnight without a victor called. Ocean County Republicans gathered at their headquarters in Toms River, while Burlington County Democrats huddled in Mt. Laurel some 40 miles away.
The race, pitting a two-term incumbent against a former staffer to President Barack Obama, was always expected to be close. Democrats early on pegged MacArthur as vulnerable in the South Jersey district, citing a wave of anti-Trump, progressive grassroots activity, and gunned hard for the seat over the last few months. Polls leading up to the election bore out that competitiveness, often showing the two neck and neck.
Few observers, however, likely expected it to be this close. With 100 percent of the votes from Ocean County counted and 98.2 percent of precincts reporting in Burlington County, MacArthur ended last night with a nearly 2,000-vote lead over Kim. But that does not include provisional ballots, an even larger number of which, campaign members say, and an unknown number of mail-in ballots from Burlington County have yet to be counted. Burlington County is expected to turn in a Democratic plurality.
“There’s no ability at the present time to know how many provisional ballots are from Burlington, how many here,” Ocean County Republican Chairman George Gilmore told supporters at the party’s headquarters. “And though we feel confident that Tom MacArthur is in the lead, and that we will move on to be successful, unfortunately Tom cannot make a statement.”
Fretting over mail-in ballots
Gilmore cited MacArthur’s strong showing in Ocean County both through mail-in ballots and those cast at the polls, saying the Republican earned nearly 30,000 more votes there. Members of Kim’s campaign, meanwhile, pointed to the Democrat’s performance in the district’s Burlington County portion, where the newcomer bested MacArthur by a similar margin.
The 3rd Congressional District encompasses a diverse swath of South Jersey, including conservative parts of Ocean County and more liberal Burlington County. Still, it’s maintained a slightly more conservative bent since 2011, when redistricting added Ocean County’s Brick Township and removed Camden County’s Cherry Hill, a Democratic stronghold.
“While the polls closed four hours ago, the race is too close to call and there will not be a result tonight,” said Zack Carroll, campaign manager for Kim. “There are still tens of thousands of ballots that need to be counted, many of which are from voters in Burlington County. We are confident that when all the votes are properly counted, Andy will be declared the winner.”
In explaining the race’s stalled outcome, MacArthur’s camp also focused their frustrations on a specific issue: the state’s recent changes to its vote-by-mail process. Under a new provision passed by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Phil Murphy this year, voters were able to vote by mail as late as yesterday, as long as their ballots were postmarked yesterday and received by the clerk no later than Thursday. Another change in the law requires that county clerks send a mail-in ballot to all those who voted by mail in 2016, unless the voters opted out.
The changes led to widespread confusion across the state today. But Gilmore and other MacArthur supporters suggested it had an especially complicated effect in the 3rd district, where it led voters to cast more provisional ballots than usual.
‘A lot of confusion’ for voters
“This has created a lot of confusion on the part of the electorate,” Gilmore said. “People got absentee ballots when they never requested them, they threw them away, and when they go to the election district to vote, they’re told they can’t vote on the machine because they got an absentee ballot. They say, ‘but I didn’t vote.’ They’re told it doesn’t matter. The only thing they can do then is vote provisionally.”
The controversy made for a suspenseful night at both campaign locations. At MacArthur’s headquarters, supporters milled about the conference room at the Days Hotel, awaiting an appearance by MacArthur that never came. The Republican incumbent, though he was in the building for much of the night, opted not to address the audience. Gilmore said MacArthur could send out a statement as early as today, though also noted that it may take days for all outstanding ballots to be counted.
Kim, meanwhile, did speak to his supporters at his election night event in Mt. Laurel.
In the end, the development prolongs what has already been one of the most closely-watched midterm contests. MacArthur, a former insurance executive and mayor of Randolph, has won re-election twice in the district — once in 2014, after a similarly hard-fought contest with Democrat Aimee Belgard, and again in 2016, against a beleaguered Fred LaVergne. But he faced one of his fiercest challenges yet in Kim, a child of South Korean immigrants who served as former director of Iraq for the National Security Council during the Obama administration.
Whether or not Kim ultimately wins, experts say the Democrat’s showing tonight speaks for itself.
“We should remember, what’s significant about tonight, aside from it was a very good night for Democrats, is these are districts that have been gerrymandered to protect Republicans,” Ben Dworkin, founding director of the Rowan Institute for Public Policy and Citizenship at Rowan University, said during an appearance on NJTV. “So that they were competitive at all is kind of stunning.”
2nd Congressional District
Democratic State Sen. Jeff Van Drew beat Republican Seth Grossman in a closer than expected contest where both candidates competed over who was the true conservative. Van Drew defeated Grossman by a 52 percent to 46.2 percent margin with 100 percent of votes counted, according to unofficial results, meaning the two candidates were separated by approximately 14,000 votes. Van Drew, who represents part of the district in the state legislature, had been pegged to win by at least 20 points.
The deep South Jersey district, the largest geographically in the state, includes parts of Burlington, Camden, Gloucester and Ocean counties. It dominates southernmost New Jersey, encompassing all of Atlantic, Cape May, Cumberland, and Salem counties.
Grossman, an Atlantic City resident and former councilman, former Atlantic County freeholder, and Somers Point attorney, and Van Drew, a dentist and a state Senator since 2008, had considerably different views about what the 2nd district needs from its next representative.
Grossman courted controversy regarding diversity during the campaign, publicly stating that “the whole idea of diversity is a bunch of crap and un-American,” a comment that led the National Republican Campaign Committee (NRCC) to withdraw its support of him.
‘Astounded’ by Van Drew-Grossman
“I’m astounded,” said Brigid Harrison, a political scientist at Montclair State University. “This is my district. Van Drew was hurt by an enthusiasm gap. This was definitely the outlier in the state.” Harrison noted that Grossman seemed to be winning the “battle of the lawn signs” and if you were an uninformed voter, you would revert to your normal voting patterns.
Van Drew and Grossman competed for the seat held for more than two decades by the retiring Republican Rep. Frank LoBiondo, who leaned more to the center than to the right. Van Drew, a conservative Democrat, claimed that he is far more akin policy-wise to LoBiondo, a centrist Republican who currently presides over a largely working-class district, with wide swaths of rural farmland, than Grossman.
Yet Grossman was unafraid to demonstrate his avid support of President Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” maxim. Grossman has consistently declared his allegiance to the president and his policies, which trend farther to the right, a theme that has been a key component of Grossman’s campaign.
11th Congressional District
Former Navy pilot and federal prosecutor Democrat Mikie Sherrill prevailed in the 11th Congressional District, winning 56 percent of the votes (148,423) over opponent Republican Assemblyman Jay Webber who received 43 percent (115,570). As a candidate, Sherrill — who ran as a moderate — was almost perfectly formulated for this well-heeled and educated district.
“Now is the time for our country to come together,” Sherrill said, speaking to a packed ballroom at the Sheraton hotel in Parsippany-Troy Hills, adding, “Let’s celebrate tonight knowing that tomorrow, our work really begins.”
“This is a great night for New Jersey,” Democratic State Committee Chairman John Currie said. “We have elected the best candidate to lead the charge.” Currie said he knew from day one Sherrill was “the candidate” that could not only flip the district but hold the seat in 2020.
Sherrill’s looking for bipartisanship
The race had been tight for months leading up to the election despite Sherrill vastly outspending Webber. In fact, Sherrill has raised the most money of any New Jersey House candidate this year, shattering state fundraising records by bringing in $7,654,107. The flip was a huge feat for Sherrill as the district, according to FiveThirtyEight, leans 4.5 points more Republican than the nation overall. Indeed, Republicans held the 11th for three decades.
Sherrill said her three targets in Congress will be securing a healthcare plan that protects coverage for those with pre-existing conditions, moving forward a tax reform plan that “makes it possible to raise a family and retire here in New Jersey,” and securing federal funding for infrastructure. She added that representing both highly conservative and liberal portions of the state means she’ll need to place a focus on bipartisanship.
“What this is is a real win for bipartisanship… the overarching feel is Congress just isn’t working,” she said. “What we need to see is people on both sides of the aisle working together, agreeing with the president when he’s right and standing up to him when he’s wrong.”
Sherrill attributed her win not only to her hardworking, mostly millennial staff, but also to the “thousands of women who are ready to join [her] in making sure we have a better future.”
7th Congressional District
Democrat Tom Malinowski won a narrow victory over incumbent Republican Rep. Leonard Lance in New Jersey’s 7th Congressional District.
“Let’s talk about things in the proper order — we won the House!” said Malinowski, as the packed crowd exploded with joy at his election night party in Berkeley Heights. “Fear lost today. Common sense won. Decency won.” Malinowski defeated Lance by a 50.3 percent to 48.2 percent margin with 96 percent of the votes counted, according to unofficial results, with the two candidates separated by approximately 5,800 votes.
Malinowski’s win could be considered part of a blue wave that swept Democrats back into control of the House of Representatives. The district, comprising parts of Essex, Union, Somerset, and Morris counties, as well as all of Hunterdon County, is a true snapshot of wealthy, suburban America, with some exurban and rural areas mixed in.
While the two candidates often agreed in principle on these issues, Malinowski noted that Lance was effectively neutered in a GOP dominated by Trump, who is highly unpopular in the 7th district. Lance moved more to the right in recent years to try to accommodate an increasingly conservative Republican agenda. Malinowski asserted that this shift did not represent the views of most of the centrist district’s voters, and that change was needed in order to effectively represent a more moderate constituency.
At the same time, Malinowski, moments after Lance called him to concede defeat, lauded the five-term Congressman for his public service, a nod to the generally gentlemanly tone exhibited in this campaign.
Several Malinowski supporters, reflecting the relatively well-educated and well-heeled district voters, spoke about how Malinowski’s win came about.
“Trump’s win in 2016 was a wake-up call to all of us, especially for women. It was our time to speak up,” said Lisa Mandelblatt, a former lawyer and teacher from Westfield who threw her hat into the CD-7 ring before ultimately backing Malinowski. “We used to say that we were the red state of Westfield. Not anymore. That’s all over now.”
“When I drove up to my polling place this morning, there was a wall of SUVs,” said Michael Ash, an attorney from Westfield, who pointed to a sign of the high voter turnout before he referenced a theme Trump used in the campaign’s final days about immigration. “Now that’s a caravan.”
The national spotlight shining on Malinowski was clearly present as he spoke to his local supporters. At the end of his speech — at the end of a close election — Malinowski referenced words used by President Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War, a time when civility in American politics was sorely absent.
“Back then, there was just enough virtue in the Republic to save it,” Malinowski said. “This was a ‘just enough virtue’ election. But just enough can be plenty powerful.”
—Carly Sitrin, Mark J. Bonamo, and Chase Brush contributed to this story.