New Jersey’s political season is officially on.
Like opening day in baseball, Monday marked the official beginning of a long slog that ends in the fall as 63 candidates — 22 Democrats and 41 Republicans — filed to run for June 7 primary for the state’s 12 US House seats, according to the state Division of elections.
Among them was former state Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean Jr., the Republican most likely to flip a Democratic-held US House seat in New Jersey this fall. But before Kean can take on Democratic incumbent Tom Malinowski in the 7th district, he’ll first have to bet by six other GOP candidates, including a state lawmaker best known for opposing mask and vax mandates at the Statehouse.
Others running include gym owner Ian Smith, who has gained national attention for defying Gov. Phil Murphy’s orders to shut down to reduce the spread of the coronavirus; Rik Mehta, the unsuccessful 2020 GOP nominee against US Sen. Cory Booker; and veteran community organizer and former staffer Imani Oakley, who launched a strong challenge to long-time Rep. Donald Payne Jr.
Five Republicans are running against New Jersey’s longest-serving member, Republican Rep. Chris Smith, whose vote for President Joe Biden’s $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill drew condemnation from former President Donald Trump.
Some candidates likely will drop off the primary ballot when their petitions are reviewed in the next week and they fall short of the 200 valid signatures needed to qualify. Independent candidates for the 12 House seats have until June to file.
These are the first elections under new congressional districts that also protected 11 of the state’s 12 incumbents, all but Malinowski. The two Washington-based publications that track congressional races, the Cook Political Report and Inside Elections, both consider the 7th District the only competitive one in the state.
Here are the candidates who filed to run for Congress:
1st District: Democratic Rep. Donald Norcross faces school teacher Mario De Santis.
The 2020 GOP nominee, retailer Claire Gustafson, is running against carpenter Damon Galdo
2nd District: This was the highest-profile congressional race in the state two years ago, featuring a member of the Kennedy family as the Democratic nominee. Not this year, as Democrats are no longer targeting a Republican Rep. Jeff Van Drew.
Van Drew, seeking his third term, has primary challenges from carpenter and business owner Sean Pignatelli and businessman John Barker.
On the Democratic side, civil rights lawyer and former detective Tim Alexander entered the race a year ago. Running against him is engineer Carolyn Rush.
3rd District: Democratic Rep. Andy Kim faces Reuven Hendler, a project manager at an engineering firm and a small business owner, who is running on a platform of universal government-run health care, known as Medicare for All.
Seeking the Republican nod are Ian Smith, who went to Washington in January 2021 to protest Joe Biden’s victory and last month was charged with drunken driving; yacht company co-founder Bob Healey, named by the National Republican Congressional Committee as a potentially competitive challenger; and Nicholas Ferrara, a Realtor and lawyer.
4th District: Donald Trump asked Republicans to challenge Republican incumbent Chris Smith in the primary, and five petitions, some after asking the former president for his support.
They are retired FBI Agent Steve Gray, whose ballot slogan includes the words, “America First”; Mike Blasi, a former law enforcement officer and owner of a small real estate company who has praised two of Trump’s most vocal supporters in Congress; entrepreneur Tricia Flanagan, who switched to the 4th District from the 3rd after Trump criticized Smith; talk show host Mike Crispi; and Robert Schapiro, who wants a ballot slogan of “Let’s Go Brand*n – FJB,” an anti-Biden expression by Trump backers.
Only one Democrat, health and wellness consultant Matt Jenkins, filed to run.
5th District: Democratic Rep. Josh Gottheimer has no primary opposition. In January, he was added to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s “Frontline” program, which provides extra help for incumbents expected to be in tight races.
Former investment banker Frank Pallotta, who lost to Gottheimer in 2020; businessman Fred Schneiderman, who has former Trump campaign manager and New Jersey native Kellyanne Conway working for him; Marine Corps veteran Nick De Gregorio; and former Ron Paul supporter Sab Skenderi are seeking the Republican nomination
6th District: Rep. Frank Ballone Jr. is the only Democratic candidate.
The Republicans are Rik Mehta, who switched from the 7th District and has “America First” as part of his ballot slogan; Monmouth County Commissioner Sue Kiley, who has backing of the county parties in the district; businessman Thomas Toomey and lawyer Gregg Mele.
7th District: Tom Kean, son of former Gov. Tom Kean who lost a tight election for the seat in 2020, will face several candidates, including Assemblyman Eric Peterson, R-Hunterdon, one of a handful of Republican Assembly members who refused to follow the Statehouse’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate in December, walking onto the floor and claiming, “This is tyranny, folks!”
Also running are pastor Phil Rizzo, an unsuccessful 2021 gubernatorial candidate who is using Trump’s “America First” slogan on his ballot line and shifted to this race from the 11th District; .builder Kevin Dorlon; businessman John Isemann; transportation and logistics account executive Sterling Schwab; and Fredon Township Mayor John Flora.
Incumbent Democrat Tom Malinowski has his own primary opponent, perennial candidate Roger Bacon.
8th District: After Rep. Albio Sires announced his retirement, lawyer Rob Menendez, son of US Sen. Robert Menendez, entered the race and quickly vacuumed up the endorsements of public and party leaders. But four other Democrats are challenging him for the party’s nomination: teacher Ane Roseborough-Eberhard; Brian Varela, head of a North Bergen marketing firm; David Ocampo Grajales, director of an organization that helps hospitals and universities; and law professor Eugene Mazo..
The only Republican running is Marcos Arroyo.
9th District: Democratic Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr. and his 2020 Republican challenger, Billy Prempeh, who had ties to the right-wing QAnon conspiracy movement, are heading for a rematch. Neither has a primary opponent.
10th District: Rep. Donald Payne won the 2020 Democratic primary with 89% of the vote, but he’s running scared this time around. Not only did he file almost 10,000 petition signatures, but he rolled out a series of high-profile endorsements, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.; Murphy; and both of the state’s US senators, Booker and Menendez.
Former staffer Imani Oakley is the challenger who has Payne worried. Also in the Democratic primary is sociology professor Akil Khalfani.
Two Republicans are seeking their party’s nomination: Garth Stewart and David Pinkney.
11th District: Democratic Rep. Mikie Sherrill is assured of renomination.
She’s attracted five Republican challengers: nurse Ruth McAndrew, Morris County Commissioner Tayfun Salen, former Passaic County Assistant Prosecutor Paul DeGroot, small business owner Toby Anderson, and real estate consultant Alex Halter.
12th District: Democratic Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman has no primary opposition.
Two Republicans, businessman Darius Mayfield and small business owner Nick Catucci want to face her.
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Jonathan D. Salant may be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @JDSalant.
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