Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-Ringoes) sketched out what he views as glaring differences with Senate Minority Leader Thomas Kean, Jr. as the two begin their general election in one of the state’s most competitive congressional districts.
“It’s not just the candidate, it’s the moment,” Malinowski said. “In this moment I’d rather be running on my record than his, and with my willing to speak clearly about what I think is right and wrong. A candidate who has consistently refused to do that in a moment when people crave authenticity and principal is going to have a hard time with the people of the district I represent.”
In an interview with the New Jersey Globe less than two hours before the polls closed for yesterday’s primary, Malinowski repeatedly stressed the importance of leadership and character in his bid for re-election to a second term.
He thinks his constituents will demand at least that.
“They want to be represented by a leader who has the strength to stand up at critical moments and fight for the district and say what’s right and what’s wrong,” said Malinowski.
The freshman Democrat acknowledges that “not everybody in the district is a passionate, committed opponent of Donald Trump,” but argues that New Jersey’s 7th is more of a Romney Republican district than a Trump one.
“At this point, after what we’ve been through in his country the last few months, I think pretty much everybody is saying, ‘Do your damn job, Mr. President,’” Malinowski stated. “Take care of people who are sick, people who are unemployed, our soldiers who are in harms way, put them before yourself. After 3 ½ years, I don’t think too many of them expect the president to change his stripes.”
Still, Malinowski doesn’t think that residents of his district will view their choice of a congressman as simply flotsam and jetsam of the race between Donald Trump and Joe Biden.
“The choice between me and Kean is not a referendum on Trump, it’s a referendum on us,” he explained. “But it does matter what we think about what’s going on in the country and whether we’re willing to stand up when we see something that’s wrong.”
Malinowski sees a correlation between his 2018 race, when he unseated five-term Rep. Leonard Lance (R-Clinton Township), and his race against Kean.
“One thing I said about Lance was that he ended up being a weather vane. The problem with being a weather vane is it will tell you the way the wind is blowing but it will never change the way the wind is blowing,” Malinowski noted. “I don’t think that people want another weather vane.”
Instead, Malinowski points to his record on health care, the Gateway tunnel, restoration of the SALT deduction, his pursuit of gun safety legislation, and standing up for dreamers and LGBTQ rights.
Malinowski seems eager to let voters compare his record as a congressman for the last eighteen months with Kean’s nearly nineteen years in the New Jersey Legislature.
“I feel like what I’ve done and what the House of Representatives has done in the last year and a half is exactly what we ran on, exactly what we said we would do,” said Malinowski.
Among the things about his opponent that apparently irks him: Kean recently apologized for his vote against gay marriage when the measure failed to pass the Senate in 2010.
Malinowski doesn’t think that Kean’s conversion from opponent to supporter is genuine.
“Either he had a genuine change of heart or he’s running for Congress,” he said. “There’s not enough days between now and November 3 for him to regret every vote he’s taken in Trenton that a majority of voters in his district would consider contrary to his values.”
Specifically, Malinowski said he plans to contrast his views on guns with Kean.
“The guy still has an A+ rating from the NRA,” said Malinowski. “Explain that to the Moms and Dads in Westfield and Summit. It’s very hard to do.”
According to Malinowski, New Jersey “may be the state that has the biggest say of who controls the House.”
The Central Jersey congressman is already anticipating the Kean campaign’s line of attack against him.
“I fully expect that Republicans will be out there saying ‘Tom Malinowski votes with Nancy Pelosi,’ because what else do they have? But the response to that is ‘no actually, Nancy Pelosi votes with me in support of our priorities in New Jersey,” Malinowski explained.
He seems entirely comfortable with his support of Pelosi, who he says has supported his efforts to help his home state, including the Gateway project and the return of property tax deductions on federal income taxes.
Ultimately, Malinowski believes his constituents don’t want a Republican-controlled Congress.
“The last thing New Jersey needs is to return control of the House back to the people who screwed us on SALT and transportation and other issues,” he said.