By Chloe Yang
On December 22, 2021, the New Jersey Congressional Redistricting Commission adopted a new congressional district map. The six Democrats on New Jersey’s bipartisan Congressional Redistricting Commission drew their own proposal for the new map whereas the six Republicans on the commission drew a separate proposal. Because they could not agree on a map, NJ Supreme Court Justice John Wallace, who had been selected as the tie-breaker, had an enormous amount of power in deciding the future of the state’s congressional districts. On December 22nd, Wallace announced that he would vote in favor of the Democrats’ map, citing his reason for doing so being that the Republicans controlled the state’s last redistricting process in 2011.
Unsurprisingly, the new map is relatively favorable to Democrats, for out of the twelve congressional districts of New Jersey, six districts are now solidly Democratic and three districts are Democratic-leaning. In comparison to the previous map, the new map includes three more Democratically-leaning districts: one less Republican-leaning district and two less highly competitive districts.
Most notably, Democratic Representative Andy Kim’s 3rd Congressional district had the most dramatic partisan swing, going from R+5 to D+9 (data based on FiveThirtyEight’s Partisan Propensity Index). Similarly, Representatives Josh Gottheimer and Mikie Sherrill gained much bluer districts following the redistricting, improving their reelection prospects in 2022.
However, while Representatives Kim, Gottheimer, and Sherrill all benefited from this redraw, District 7’s own Democratic Representative Tom Malinowski is at an increased risk, with the district going from D+4 to R+3. During the redistricting process, Malinowski supporters testified at meetings of the NJ Redistricting Commission to try to save Malinowski’s reelection chances, with one supporter stating that, “[m]aking our district safe for the scion of any political dynasty would be unacceptable to the citizens of NJ-7”. However, these efforts were ultimately not enough and Malinowski’s seat may have been sacrificed in the redistricting process.
In 2020, Malinowski’s opponent, New Jersey State Senator Tom Kean Jr., came just one point away and 5,000 votes from unseating the incumbent. Kean has announced that he will be seeking a rematch with Malinowski in 2022. Although this time around, Kean has primary opponents to face off against, State Assemblyman Erik Peterson and America First Rev. Phil Rizzo, Kean is likely to remain on top as the Republicans’ candidate of choice. But no matter how difficult his reelection chances may seem, Malinowski announced early last month that he would be seeking reelection for a third term. Malinowski himself admits in a fundraising email that “redistricting hasn’t made things easier for us” but also contends, “I’ve only ever won hard races. And my likely opponent, Tom Kean Jr., has only ever lost them — for good reason.”
Contrastingly, Kean is increasingly confident going into election season. Dan Scharfenberger, Kean’s campaign manager, for example, thinks that the new district lines were a reflection of Malinowski’s increasingly slim reelection prospects: “Democrats on redistricting rated him a loser, now analysts rate him a loser”.
The Congressman’s reelection chances are far from entirely gone. In fact, Malinowski has only ever run in highly competitive races. Malinowski has a leg up in fundraising: Malinowski raised around $2.1 million in campaign financing by October, 2021, in comparison to Kean’s $648,000. Additionally, in 2018, Malinowski was one of the few Democrats who campaigned in the race as a moderate and won. Going into the midterms, one of Malinowski’s primary strategies is to appeal to the voters who backed Biden for President and Kean for Congress in 2020. This election may test whether a Democrat with an independent persona, much like Malinowski, can withstand a Republican wave.
As in every new decade, the redistricting process has come and gone. However, for residents of New Jersey’s Seventh Congressional district, the new lines may cause great political change in the 2022 midterm elections, possibly flipping the balance of power for the next two years, or even longer. As Malinowski himself states, “The stakes have never been higher.”