Big money floods key NJ House races

Millions have already voted but political groups are spending. Total is $26 million and growing
Credit: NJ Spotlight News
Oct. 8, 2020: Democratic challenger Amy Kennedy and incumbent Republican Rep. Jeff Van Drew debated at the William J. Hughes Center for Public Policy at Stockton University. Their race has attracted millions of dollars in spending by independent groups.

Some 3 million New Jerseyans have already voted, but that isn’t stopping independent groups from continuing to pump millions of dollars to sway potential voters in the state’s closest congressional races.

To date, mostly partisan organizations have spent more than $26 million on ads and other efforts meant to elect or defeat candidates and that total is increasing every day, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics OpenSecrets website. Overwhelmingly, money spent by independent and dark money groups that do not have to report their funders is on negative ads. Added to $48.7 million spent by 23 major party candidates for the Senate and House of Representatives, the total expended so far is roughly $75 million.

Not surprisingly, the most expensive House races are in three congressional districts that flipped control in the 2018 blue wave.

See where the money is coming from and who is getting it

Topping the list is the southernmost 2nd District contest pitting Democrat Amy Kennedy against incumbent Jeff Van Drew, who ran two years ago as a Democrat then switched to Republican in December after voting against impeaching President Donald Trump.

Independent spending is dominating there, totaling almost $12 million, while the candidates have spent a combined $7.1 million. Progressive organizations are outspending conservative ones: The Democrats’ House Majority PAC has spent almost $5.3 million alone and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has spent another $1.2 million, while the National Republican Congressional Committee and Congressional Leadership Fund have laid out a combined $4.3 million. One of the three national race raters, Inside Elections, has moved the race from toss-up to tilting Democratic.

Democratic Rep. Tom Malinowski’s seat in the 7th District, which includes parts of six counties stretching from the Delaware River almost to the Arthur Kill, is unanimously rated leaning Democratic, but Republicans are spending heavily to try to elect Tom Kean, the Republican leader in the state Senate. Malinowski has spent twice as much as Kean, but pro-Republican independent groups have been picking up the slack for the last several weeks, with the NRCC and CLF having spent $4.1 million through Oct. 29. The Democrats’ House Majority PAC and DCCC have spent $3.8 million.

Freshman Rep. Andy Kim’s seat in the 3rd District, which spans Burlington and Ocean counties, is the third House district with more than $10 million spent so far. Kim is significantly ahead of Republican opponent David Richter, with $9.4 million in campaign and independent spending behind the Democrat. Outside support from right-leaning groups for Richter has failed to materialize; these groups have spent less than $600,000 in the race — just $117,000 from the CLF.

Spending in the U.S. Senate race is just a fraction of what it was two years ago, when former pharmaceuticals executive Bob Hugin spent $36 million of his own money in his loss to incumbent Democrat Bob Menendez. Just $11.4 million has been spent so far, 95% of it by Democrat Cory Booker, who is finishing his first full term in the Senate. His Republican opponent, Rik Mehta, had spent $562,000 and had just $3,000 in the bank as of Oct. 14. Booker had $5.4 million on hand.