New Jersey’s Third Congressional District has been in solid Republican hands since 1993, with the exception of John Adler’s single term. The district spans parts of Burlington and Ocean counties from the Delaware River to the Jersey Shore. Tom MacArthur bought the seat in 2014 with $5 million of his own money and due to the abandonment of the Democratic candidate by the South Jersey political machine.
For the sake of this article, let’s assume that MacArthur will run again in 2018. Assume he won’t run for U.S. Senate and he won’t get a federal appointment from his BFF, Donald trump.
There are two excellent candidates who have already declared their intention to challenge TMac. Andy Kim, a native of Marlton and Katie Hartman, a popular Moorestown attorney, have thrown their hats into the ring. (There’s a third candidate, the loser to MacArthur in 2016, Fred LaVergne, who raised the grand sum of $600 in his campaign and won’t be a factor this year.)
There are two important factors that come into play when talking about a challenge to the wealthy incumbent.
The first issue is fundraising. Without the money for media buys and a strong and experienced paid staff, MacArthur will be hard to beat. The district is served by the New York (#1) and Philadelphia (#5) media markets, with no single indigenous outlet that is ubiquitous. There is no equivalent to the Star Ledger or Bergen Record that dominates the South Jersey newspaper market. So the successful candidate will have to have a media-savvy professional on his or her staff and the money to get their message out across multiple platforms. Kim’s experience in the Obama administration gives him a broader, nationwide reach among Obama administration alumni, while Hartman’s connections within the legal community give her the advantage in local fundraising efforts, at least in the western part of the district. Given the explosion in campaign costs, especially in a hotly contested district like NJ-3, the successful candidate must raise a lot of money quickly – maybe three to four million dollars – so that they can spend more time pressing the flesh for votes and less time on the phone groveling for contributions.
An equally important issue for whoever becomes the Democratic standard-bearer is getting out the vote. If there is a high Democratic turnout, especially in Burlington County, coupled with a close loss in Ocean, the Democrat has a chance to win. This means a flawless ground game, which in turn means financial support from Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) and others to hire a top-notch set of experienced GOTV operatives to work with a large cadre of volunteers. Voters in Willingboro and the river towns along Route 130 will be crucial. And while surrogates are fine, nothing beats the candidate showing up at as many events as possible.
As we saw in his marathon Willingboro Town Hall, Tom MacArthur has the uncanny ability to twist facts while sounding honest, doesn’t lose his temper in public, and leaves the dirty tricks to his staff. You can bet that there will be “independent” groups attacking the Democrat with falsehoods and innuendos. That’s their modus operandi in these parts.
The Democrats need to make this the premier national race on medical care. After all, TrumpCare was dead until Tom MacArthur resurrected it. This race will receive national attention, and the Republicans are gunning for a victory. The question is can the local and national Democrats get their act together to eke out a victory? Or will the local Democrats who put up a candidate last time who raised all of $600 and the national Democrats who blew a sure thing in the presidential election allow history to repeat itself?