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MacArthur Attacks, Kim Pushes Back in South Jersey’s 3rd District

Could Democrat Andy Kim ride a blue wave big enough to swamp the sitting congressman? MacArthur’s tough tactics suggest the polls are correct — and the race is tight

Andy Kim &  Tiffany Muller
Andy Kim, Democratic candidate, 3rd District, with Tiffany Muller, president of End Citizens United at a rally in Marlton on Monday.

Andy Kim, the Democratic candidate for New Jersey’s 3rd Congressional District, is closing in on the Republican incumbent Tom MacArthur — literally. According to the latest Monmouth University poll, Kim is only one point behind MacArthur and he took his latest campaign rally right up to the congressman’s office in Marlton.

“I look down at what’s happening in Washington D.C. and I see all of those problems and I see all the dysfunction and it drives me crazy.” Kim said. “This is a time when we can make our mark and this is a time when we can say ‘enough.’”

When asked why hold a rally outside MacArthur’s door, Kim responded, “This is about holding [a rally] in my hometown and that’s a big part of what we wanted to show. This is my district.”

Kim is riding a blue wave that is threatening to overpower several districts in New Jersey. There are quite a few races this election season featuring young, female, or minority Democratic candidates with experience in the Obama administration up against acolytes of President Donald Trump and who have bright red voting records.

Influx of Democratic cash

Like Districts 11 and 7, New Jersey’s 3rd is seeing an influx of cash from national Democratic groups in hopes of flipping the seat. This week, a coalition of three powerful environmental groups launched a more than $1 million TV, door-knocking, and mailer campaign targeting MacArthur for being “pro-polluter.”

For Kim, that means campaign support from groups like NARAL Pro-Choice America, the Congressional Progressive Caucus (the largest Democratic caucus in Congress), and End Citizens United — which tapped its 6,800 members in New Jersey’s 3rd congressional district and 360,000 national donors to provide resources and significant financial support to Kim, who has also gotten support from his former boss, President Barack Obama.

Kim, 36, a former director of Iraq for the National Security Council during the Obama administration, also served as adviser to Generals David Petraeus and John Allen in Afghanistan. A child of South Korean immigrants, Kim was born and raised in Marlton, became a Rhodes scholar, and earned a doctorate in international relations at Oxford University. His résumé would seem to make for an ideal Democratic candidate: Native to his district, experience as a military adviser, national security experience, a sterling education, and a father of two boys. But his résumé has also come under scrutiny by his opponent who says it’s too good to be true.

Tom MacArthur
U.S. Rep. Tom MacArthur (NJ-3rd)

MacArthur, 57, has called out Kim for “inflating his résumé” in a television ad and on his website. In the ad, Kim said he served as a national security officer for Republican and Democratic presidents, though, according to Kim’s work record, the time spent working under the Republican President George W. Bush was limited to an entry-level position at the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) for a few months before returning to his studies overseas.

“Andy Kim’s hypocrisy knows no bounds.” MacArthur said in a statement following Kim’s rally outside his office.

Kim said of the criticism, “MacArthur is trying to do anything he can to distract the voters away from his voting record, from paying attention to the issues.” Kim said that’s because MacArthur’s voting record is wound tightly around Donald Trump.

MacArthur, who was first elected in 2014, is seeking a third term. He is Trump’s truest ally in New Jersey’s congressional delegation and one of his biggest supporters nationally.

According to a FiveThirtyEight report, the congressman voted in line with the president’s positions on issues 94.4 percent of the time. That included “yes” votes on the GOP’s new tax law and on the Republican attempt to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. In the healthcare vote, he and Republican Rodney P. Frelinghuysen (NJ-11th) who is retiring, were the only affirmatives from the 12-member congressional delegation. On the tax vote, MacArthur was the sole New Jersey “yes.”

In the early days of the race, the President held a fundraiser at his golf club in Bedminster for MacArthur, raising more than $800,000 for the candidate. Vice President Mike Pence also praised MacArthur during a rally in Philadelphia in July.

Vice President Pence: ‘Tom, thank you’

“From across the river, a New Jersey congressman who has been fighting for the people of New Jersey and fighting to put America first, Tom MacArthur is in the house," Pence said to the crowd. "Tom, thank you. Great job."

A former insurance executive at the York Risk Services Group, MacArthur (who is originally from Connecticut) served as mayor of Randolph in 2013 before moving to Toms River to pursue the congressional seat. He is the New Jersey delegation’s wealthiest member, clocking in at a worth of $64 million.

In the House, MacArthur sits on the Committee on Financial Services and the Subcommittees on Housing and Insurance and on Capital Markets, Securities, and Investments. He previously served on the Armed Services Committee and two of its subcommittees; Military Personnel and Tactical Air and Land Forces.

He, like Kim, can claim a fair amount of experience in military affairs and foreign policy and was instrumental in the United States Air Force’s decision to send 24 KC-46 tankers to Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst — a major economic force in the district. He is also a member of eight congressional caucuses with a focus on military service or defense.

Taking robust positions on military issues is something crucial to the 3rd District. The Joint Base is the second-largest employer in New Jersey and is home to one of the state’s largest military and veteran populations. According to state numbers, it supports more than 40,000 military employees and their families as well as more than 65,000 off-base jobs. In total, the Department of State estimates it adds more than $7 billion annually to New Jersey’s economy.

Unaffiliated voters have turned district red

But the district is composed of more than just the Joint Base, which spans two counties and parts of eight municipalities. The South Jersey district includes portions of Burlington and Ocean counties and loops in a few disparate communities of everyone from military families, to Philadelphia commuters, Pineland dwellers and year-round Jersey Shore natives. The average household income is $74,537 and it’s a majority white district.

The 3rd District tends to lean Republican in state and local elections but went for Obama in both 2008 and 2012, then Trump in 2016. According to the state elections division, there are 155,785 registered Democrats and 143,824 registered Republicans in the 3rd, but it’s the 220,673 unaffiliated voters who have pushed the district red in years past.

Because of its diverse population and huge geographical range, the 3rd District has been called by some a “carpetbagger’s paradise” ripe for non-native politicians to plant their flags. And it’s true that being new to the district didn’t stand in the way of former Congressmen John Runyan (born in Flint, Michigan), or John Adler (born in Philadelphia, raised in Haddonfield), or Jim Saxton (born in Nicholson, Pennsylvania).

But for Kim, this election is personal. “South Jersey is what gave [my parents] incredible jobs and a first home,” he said. “My favorite part of campaigning and the part of this I will take with me forever is that it has allowed me to get to know my home community in a way I would have never imagined.”

And in some cases, too personal.

Accused of racist election material

MacArthur made headlines this month when the state GOP sent out what were deemed racist attack mailers targeting Korean-American Kim, using a stereotypical font often associated with Chinese food stores. The mailer also prominently featured photographs of dead fish with the words “there’s something fishy about Andy Kim.”

The Congressional Leadership Fund super PAC also previously aired TV spots in MacArthur's favor with the tagline, “Andy Kim — NOT one of us.”

Kim says he’s trying not to dwell on the ads too much but, by holding his rally directly beneath the congressman’s office, he’s signaled an aggressive pushback.

“There are a lot of other attacks out there,” Kim said. “I’m laser-focused on what we can get done and responding to the issues of what I think this election should be about.”

The MacArthur campaign meanwhile has been leaning into some of the same tactics used by other Republican candidates across the state — linking their opponents to the corruption allegations against Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez.

“If Andy Kim wants to talk about corruption, he needs to start by disavowing Bob Menendez and calling on him to repay his convicted felon ‘best friend’ for the improper gifts he accepted. Anything short of that is just more hot air from a candidate who repeatedly says one thing and does another,” MacArthur said in a statement.

When pressed, Kim said he will not be disavowing the senator.

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