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What to watch for in Tuesday’s New Jersey primaries

New Jersey is going to the polls on Tuesday, which in 2020 means most voters across the state are headed to the mailbox to send in their ballots in a series of Democratic and Republican congressional primaries.

Registered Democrats and Republicans across the state were all sent ballots ahead of the vote, and unaffiliated voters were given the option of requesting one, as in-person voting takes a backseat in the midst of a pandemic that has slowed, but not disappeared, in the Garden State.

Visit CNN’s Election Center for full coverage of the 2020 race

It will not be a late night, though, as it is unlikely that any of the results will be clear on Tuesday or early Wednesday, as state officials will not finish counting ballots for at least a week, or — if New York was any preview — longer than that.

But that shouldn’t diminish the drama in a series of contested races that will shape Republicans’ efforts to win back what they lost in 2018, the Democratic push to reclaim a seat they lost following a 2019 defection, and a progressive primary challenge that — if successful — would be the shock of an already remarkable primary season.

Voters in Delaware will also head to the polls on Tuesday. Polls close in both states at 8 p.m. ET.

New Jersey Republican primary for swing seat turns personal

The Republican primary to take on freshman New Jersey Rep. Andy Kim in the state’s 3rd District has turned personal.

The primary has pitted David Richter, a former CEO of the global construction consulting firm Hill International, against Kate Gibbs, a former Burlington County freeholder and the deputy director of a local construction union.

Richter has aired an ad comparing Gibbs’ court record to Snooki from MTV’s “Jersey Shore.” Gibbs responded that she has “owned up” to her youthful mistakes, which included charges of shoplifting, drug possession and alcohol possession at the beach. Gibbs said in an ad that she’s no longer that “college kid” but a “conservative woman” who cut property taxes while in office and would stand with President Donald Trump in Congress.

Gibbs has attacked Richter for running in the primary race after initially campaigning against Rep. Jeff Van Drew in southern New Jersey. Richter switched districts after Van Drew defected to the Republican Party last year.

Richter has spent more than twice Gibbs’ campaign cash, loaning his campaign hundreds of thousands of dollars. He’s also aired ads lambasting Gibbs for her employer’s support of raising tolls to rebuild the New Jersey Turnpike.

In a June debate, Gibbs reportedly called Richter is “an entitled rich guy” who is “desperate to get a title,” while Richter decried Gibbs for her “pattern of reckless disregard for the law.”

The winner of Tuesday’s primary will take on Kim in November. The nonpartisan Cook Political Report has rated the general election race a “toss up.” In 2016, Republican Rep. Tom MacArthur won reelection in this district, which stretches from the eastern suburbs of Philadelphia to the shore, by 20 percentage points. Two years later, he lost to Kim, a former national security official in the Obama administration, by less than two.

New Jersey chooses Democrat to take on turncoat Republican Rep. Jeff Van Drew

In 2018, Van Drew became the first Democrat to represent south New Jersey in the House of Representatives in over two decades. In 2019, he voted against the articles of impeachment, pledged his “undying support” to Trump, and became a Republican.

On Tuesday, the Atlantic City-based 2nd district will vote for the Democrat to take on the turncoat.

The primary is considered a proxy fight. Two weeks ago, Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy endorsed Amy Kennedy, a mental health advocate and former public school teacher married to former Rhode Island Rep. Patrick Kennedy. But New Jersey power broker George Norcross and state Senate president Stephen Sweeney, two of Murphy’s rivals, have backed Brigid Callahan Harrison, a Montclair State University political science professor.

Kennedy has spent by far the most money of any candidate in the race, fueled in part by her own $500,000 donation to her campaign. She has portrayed herself as an outsider running against the state’s political machine while also touting her ties to the Kennedy family dynasty.

But Harrison boasts the support of both New Jersey senators and six of the eight county chairs in the district, attacking Kennedy for using her family connections in her congressional bid.

Will Cunningham, a former investigator for the House Oversight Committee, is also running and recently received the endorsement of the Philadelphia Inquirer’s editorial board. He ran in 2018 against Van Drew and received 16% of the vote. Cunningham, an openly gay Black lawyer who grew up homeless, has spoken about the national reckoning with racism and police brutality since the killing of George Floyd from his own personal perspective.

If any of these three Democratic candidates defeat Van Drew, the election would break gender or racial barriers for South Jersey.

The primary is not expected to be called for days due to the coronavirus pandemic. It will be primarily conducted by mail, which must be postmarked by Tuesday.

One of the most conservative House Democrats faces a progressive challenge

Arati Kreibich, a neuroscientist, supported Rep. Josh Gottheimer in 2016 — his was her first nonpresidential lawn sign, she told CNN — and again in 2018, when she volunteered to help re-elect him.

But that all changed after rift on Capitol Hill over a border funding bill last year, perhaps the sharpest clash yet between the Democratic caucus’ moderates and progressives, made Gottheimer a top target for the left — and convinced Kreibich to challenge him for the seat in New Jersey’s 5th District in 2020.

Kreibich got a boost in exposure after New York progressives performed well in their primaries last month and a surge in fundraising after she was endorsed by Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Ayanna Pressley. She has the backing of the campaign arm of Indivisible, the Progressive Change Campaign Committee and smaller liberal groups on the ground in New Jersey.

Gottheimer, though, is a formidable incumbent with connections to nearly every piece of the state Democratic and national liberal establishment, from Sen. Cory Booker to mayors across the district. He supports abortion rights and has long supported same-sex marriage. The former Clinton White House speechwriter is also a fundraising colossus — his nickname in some quarters is the “Human Fundraising Machine” — and though he’s barely tapped into his treasure, will easily outspend Kreibich.

Both 45 years old, Gottheimer and Kreibich, who came to the US from India when she was 11 years old, hold competing theories about the makeup of their district. Trump narrowly won it in 2016, on the same night Gottheimer unseated the longtime GOP incumbent Rep. Scott Garrett. Two years later, Gottheimer won reelection by double-digits.

Despite the 2018 results, Gottheimer and leading House Democrats still very much view the 5th as a swing district. Republicans are lining up for a chance to reclaim it in November. Kreibich, meanwhile, has no illusions about what a general election contest would entail, but argues that the district is blue and getting bluer — thanks, as she said, to people like her.

The race on Tuesday, then, is very much a question of whose perception is more closely aligned with Democratic voters, who once again must weigh any desire to move the party left against warnings from an establishment that says doing so would risk defeat in November.



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