Three Takeaways From Early NJ Congress Ads

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The traditional post-Labor Day campaign season start arrived last week, and with it came a deluge of ads in New Jersey’s most competitive congressional districts.

These early TV ads – there have been 12 so far, from six different campaigns – are a useful window into the priorities of both sides and the messages they believe will help them win. Here are three takeaways based on what Democrats and Republicans have, and haven’t, said and done in their ads.

Democrats talk about abortion, Republicans talk about inflation

The increasingly dominant narrative of the 2022 election is that across the country, Democratic candidates are hoping to draw voters’ attention to abortion, while Republicans are instead trying to turn the election into a referendum on abortion. ‘inflation.

The two respective strategies make sense, given that voters largely support legal abortion while giving low marks on the current state of the economy. But it’s made for a weird election cycle in which, in the words of Ronald Brownstein of The Atlantic, both parties are “to talk to each other” — and New Jersey is no exception.

Of the four New Jersey Democrats who have run TV ads so far, two have devoted full space to abortion: Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-Ringoes) said in his ad that “the MAGA crowd” shouldn’t be in charge of personal health decisions, while a nurse in Rep. Mikie Sherrill’s (D-Montclair) ad warned that “women will die” because of Republican abortion policies.

A third, Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-Wyckoff), used her first TV spot to draw attention to a woman’s right to choose among a number of other issues he has prioritized in Congress. Rep. Andy Kim (D-Moorestown) is the only one of the four who has yet to specifically mention abortion in this cycle.

The two Republicans who have run ads so far, on the other hand, have both made inflation a top priority.

Former Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean Jr. (R-Westfield), against Malinowski, criticized Democrats for worsening inflation with “billions of unnecessary spending”; an outside spot from the Congressional Leadership Fund also said that “No one wastes taxpayers’ money like Tom Malinowski.” And this very morning, Bob Healey Jr., Kim’s opponent, said that the “Washington’s Madhouse” made life more unaffordable for New Jersey residents.

That’s not to say that abortion and inflation are the only issues on both sides.

In his third TV commercial, Malinowski resurrected a strategy he consistently used during his 2020 campaign against Kean: linking the longtime state politician to Donald Trump. While Kean is hardly a Trump sidekick, Malinowski’s ad says “Trump and the MAGA crowd know they can count on Tom Kean Jr.” if elected to Congress.

Healey used a digital advertisement to raise sex education, another issue that has New Jersey politics captivated this year, saying Kim “has an extreme back-to-school schedule.” (Former gubernatorial candidate Jack Ciattarelli sent out a fundraising email today on a similar topic, so a private poll may show the issue of sex education is a winner for Republicans.)

And members of both parties raised a variety of kitchen table issues that are pillars of the US election, including promoting American energy independence, lowering the cost of prescription drugs and supporting military forces. order.

But so far abortion and inflation are the only political issues to have been the subject of dedicated TV spots, suggesting they are the main battleground on which this year’s election will be fought. .

Some incumbents are still showing up

To date, Malinowski, Sherrill, Gottheimer and Kim have each won at least two costly and competitive congressional elections, so they have run for voters many times before. But all four still used their first commercial of the cycle to once again define themselves, before a deluge of negative Republican ads stepped in and did it for them.

The four introductory spots give each incumbent a succinct image: Kim as family manGottheimer as bipartisan problem solverMalinowski as fighter ready to stand up to bulliesand Sherrill as veteran dedicated to public service.

Redistricting may have played a role in this decision. New Jersey’s new congressional map has dramatically changed all of the state’s most competitive districts, and each of the four incumbents has plenty of potential new voters to meet — especially in Kim’s 3rd District, where nearly half of its inhabitants are new to the district.

Kean and Healey, on the other hand, have yet to run general election ads focused primarily on themselves. Even though Healey in particular likely remains unknown to many New Jersey voters, ads released by their campaigns so far have focused almost entirely on attacking Malinowski, Kim and Joe Biden.

Playground can be quite small

The six candidates who have posted ads so far can tell us a lot about the House race, but also shed some light on the candidates do not have posted ads as Election Day was less than two months away.

Frank Pallotta and Paul DeGroot, against Gottheimer and Sherrill, respectively, are both running for GOP-controlled districts for the past decade — and yet neither appear to have run TV or digital ads.

While it’s possible to win a race for Congress without ever going on the air, it’s certainly not common. Pallotta and DeGroot still have time to start running ads, but the longer their campaigns stay off the air, the easier it will be for Gottheimer and Sherrill to build an insurmountable advantage.

The South Jersey-based 2nd District, where Rep. Jeff Van Drew (R-Dennis) takes on Democrat Tim Alexander after winning competitive contests in 2018 and 2020, saw no publicity action. Alexander probably doesn’t have the money to run ads, while Van Drew may just feel safe enough that he doesn’t see the need to dip into his big war chest.

And the Democratic 1st, 6th and 9th districts, where the Republicans saw glimmers of opportunity if 2022 has become a truly disastrous year for Democrats, they have also seen no publicity from either side. Given that Republican candidates in all three countries have had relatively weak fundraising, these campaigns will likely remain entirely analog unless Democrats choose to use their money to get on the air.

New Jersey saw no less than four districts move from Republican to Democratic in 2018, and five races were decided by a margin of 10 points or less in 2020. There’s still time for more districts to get going, but it should be noted that those who are very competitive cycles, there are only two districts this year where the two candidates began to broadcast ads.

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