Incumbent Democrat Tom Malinowski has conceded New Jersey's 7th Congressional District race, saying a 2021 redistricting that favored Republican candidates was just too much to overcome.
The Associated Press had called the race on Wednesday evening, naming Republican Tom Kean Jr., a former state senator and the son of a popular former governor, the victor.
Kean quickly followed Malinowski's concession with a statement thanking the incumbent for years of public service, and making what he called a "solemn pledge ... to serve with integrity, to listen, to learn, to earn this responsibility you've honored me with to steer this nation toward greater opportunity, security and prosperity."
The wording closely echoed the same statement he made to reporters Tuesday night, when Kean stopped just short of declaring victory, and Malinowski hedged on avoiding a concession even as he described challenges that hampered his campaign.
The redistricting shifted 30,000 more Republican voters into the 7th District. And the last time the same two candidates faced off, in 2020, Malinowski won by less than a percentage point after several days of counting votes.
Malinowski said that he expected the race to narrow as more votes come in this year — New Jersey counts mail-ins received for up to six days after Election Day — but not enough to change the outcome. Midday Wednesday, the AP was reporting Kean had a more than 4-point lead, with more than 95% of votes counted. Hours later, the outlet made the call official.
Kean ran unsuccessfully for Congress three times prior to this race. His campaign successfully rode a national Republican wave of anger about high inflation, maintaining a message that the Democratic Congress caused prices to rise because it spent too much taxpayer money. Nationally, that same frustration fueled several other Republican wins, but by midday Wednesday, it was still unclear whether the GOP would take control of Congress.
His father — who served as governor from 1982 until 1990 — is widely seen as a leader of New Jersey’s moderate Republicanism. But the younger Kean supports former President Donald Trump and has pledged support to House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy.
Kean, 54, lives with his wife and two daughters in Westfield and comes from a long line of elected officials. His grandfather is a former congressman, and his great-grandfather and great-great-uncle were U.S. senators. One side of his family is descended from Peter Stuyvesant, the Dutch colonial governor of what became New York, and the other side of his family is descended from John Winthrop, the first governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.
Early in the campaign season, abortion seemed to be the issue that posed the biggest problem for Kean.
Kean voted against a bill in the New Jersey Legislature that codified a statewide right to an abortion after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the landmark Roe v. Wade decision. Kean campaigned as a “pro-choice” Republican, but says he opposes abortion after 20 weeks, with exceptions for rape or incest, or to protect the life of the mother.
Tucked away in single page on his campaign site — one that could only be accessed with a direct link, because it’s not in then navigation or linked from other pages — Kean’s campaign presented a more conservative position on abortion calling him a “fierce defender of the sanctity of life, fighting every step of the way to protect the unborn from egregious abortion laws proposed in New Jersey.”
The page also took conservative stances on border security and teaching about race in schools.
Malinowski, a Democrat of Ringoes, was elected to the seat in 2018, a midterm election heavily influenced by suburban women and moderates who were upset with the Trump presidency. He had previously served as a diplomat in the Obama administration and worked for Human Rights Watch.
Malinowski’s tenure in Congress was marked by his work to obtain funding for the Gateway Project, the new Hudson River rail tunnel. He also campaigned on the Democratic-led passage of measures to bring microchip manufacturing back to the U.S., as well as boost spending for efforts to slow climate change.
Ultimately, Malinowski was caught between low approval ratings for President Joe Biden and a district that had changed enrollment demographics.
This story has been updated.