In decisive race for Congress in New Jersey, Kean Jr. avoids the local press

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Kean Jr. is a Republican running for Congress against two-term Democratic Representative Tom Malinowski in New Jersey’s 7th District, a part of the state dominated by upper-middle-class suburbs. He challenged Malinowski in 2020 and only dropped 1 point. Now, after the district turned a bit more Republican-friendly after redistricting, and as Malinowski faces scrutiny by the House Ethics Committee over late stock trade reports, Kean Jr. is being considered as the favorite to topple the seat.

The race, which has attracted millions in outside spending and is being watched nationally, is seen as crucial as Democrats try to avoid a midterm red wave and Republicans seek to regain control of Congress. .

Kean Jr., who served 19 years in the New Jersey Senate, including 14 years as the house’s minority leader, avoided most interview requests from the local press and did not announce to the advance his public appearances, banking instead on his famous name and the loss of relevance of local media in the context of declining newspaper circulation and declining television news audiences.

While more right-leaning Republicans more often shy away from mainstream media, focusing almost exclusively on appearances meant to shell out the party base, Kean Jr. has used the tactic as a way to avoid alienating both the GOP base he will vote for. need in November as well as suburban voters — mostly women who walked away from the GOP in the Trump era and support abortion rights.

In his television interview, the elder Kean did not specify any inaccuracies by Moran, and Moran disputed the claim that he had not contacted Kean Jr., digging up dozens of emails asking the candidate to comment. Moran, however, was aggressive in calling the reluctance of Kean Jr. about former President Donald Trump and Trump’s lies in his efforts to annul the 2020 election.

“I think he’s a deer in the headlights when it comes to all things Trump. On the one hand he wants to appeal to conservatives but on the other hand he doesn’t want moderates to know how close he is to Trump, so that’s impossible to fill,” Moran said in a phone interview. “I think it’s also about abortion.”

Following the Supreme Court’s decision earlier this year overturning Roe v. Wade, Democrats across the country have made abortion rights a campaign issue, hoping to galvanize suburban voters and fend off the threat of a GOP landslide in November. Republicans running in swing districts, like New Jersey’s 7th District, have tried to sidestep the issue, instead focusing on the economy and crime.

Just before the June primary, when Kean Jr. faced three challengers running to his right, the New Jersey Republican State Committee sent voters a letter with a large photo of Trump and, above a photo much smaller of Kean Jr., which read “Tom Kean Jr. supports Trump’s agenda. Around the same time, the candidate’s campaign website included a splash page – inaccessible from the rest of the site Web – which included language that made Kean Jr. sound anti-abortion.

“Tom is a strong advocate for the sanctity of life, fighting at every step to protect the unborn child from New Jersey’s blatant abortion laws, and will continue to do so in Congress,” the website reads. .

Kean Jr.’s campaign did not make him available for interview for this article. Her campaign consultant, Harrison Neely, tweeted his frustration with the press for focusing on abortion and Trump as polls show inflation a top concern among voters.

“Let’s play a little game called ‘How many press inquiries has @KeanForCongress received on inflation/economy or crime in the last 30 days?’ “Neely tweeted. “If you guessed ‘0’, you’re right!”

“The only candidate with something to hide in this race is Tom Malinowski, which is why he finds himself under an ethics investigation,” Neely said in a follow-up email. “Tom Kean Jr. runs a campaign that speaks directly to voters on the issues that matter most to them.”

Kean Jr. has not released a detailed plan to fight inflation. Asked during a recent candidate forum sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Somerset, Hunterdon and Warren Counties what he would do to fight inflation, he called for cutting government spending and increasing energy independence, and he criticized Malinowski’s votes in in favor of pandemic-era spending that he says has helped drive up inflation.

Malinowski said in a phone interview that he believes the Cut Inflation Act, while not “dramatic”, will help fight inflation by reducing prescription drug prices. , capping health insurance costs and “accelerating the transition” to clean energy, among other things. He also said increasing work visas for immigration would help ease the labor shortage.

Kean Jr.’s discomfort answering abortion questions was on display at the candidates’ forum when, in response to a question, he said, “I support a woman’s right to choose”, but pointed to “reasonable restrictions – these include life and physical and mental health mother and baby, rape and incest, for example, with a reasonable time to take a decision.

“Are you in favor of a woman’s right to choose or not? asked a viewer.

“I just did,” Kean Jr replied.

The campaign later clarified that it supported abortion up to 20 weeks gestation. In one of his last votes as a member of the New Jersey legislature, Kean Jr. opposed a bill that would codify abortion rights into state law because , he said, it did not include restrictions against abortions in late pregnancy.

Malinowski, who spoke at the event ahead of Kean Jr., said the contestants received the questions ahead of time.

“He knew exactly what was coming and it certainly seemed like he had practiced the question because he gave the exact same answer twice at different times during the session. And it still didn’t make sense,” Malinowski said. during a telephone interview.

Malinowski pointed out that he spoke to many reporters, including local news outlets and Fox News. It also holds town halls throughout the district. Pictures of a recent event organized with veteransbecame fodder for his opponents when some attendees criticized Malinowski and House Democrats.

“That one pissed me off because it was a VFW room. Kean would never show up to answer two hours of veterans’ questions, but he sends his tracker and posts out-of-context images, not just of me but of veterans who didn’t know it was going to be used that way,” Malinowski said.

Stefanie Murray, director of the Center for Cooperative Media at Montclair State University, said local journalists still have an important role to play in informing voters about the positions of those running for federal office, even if they are less many than before.

“It’s such a shame and it’s so sad to see a politician see that a strategy of avoiding the press is a winning strategy in the end,” she said. “It may be in the political interest, or so he thinks, but it’s really not in the public interest at all.”

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