Andy Kim’s Tightrope

So we won. What’s next?

Andy Kim has not even taken the oath of office, but the Burlington County Times is already speculating on who the Republicans will put up to challenge him in 2020.

So how should Kim legislate? Unlike his defeated predecessor, Kim has promised to hold frequent town hall meetings and listen to his constituents.But those constituents represent all sides of the political spectrum – from the Trump cultists in Ocean County to the left-leaning activists exemplified by MacArthur’s vociferous foil Geoff Ginger who was the star of the last Town Hall in May, 2017.

Kim is only the second Democrat to be elected to represent this District since the retirement of eleven-term Congressman Jim Saxton. In the 2008 election, popular Democratic State Senator John Adler defeated a relatively unknown businessman to flip the seat. But Adler served only one term, to be defeated by a popular NFL player in the Tea Party wave of 2010.

What can we learn from Adler’s defeat that would help Andy Kim in 2020? Probably not much. It’s a different environment than a decade ago. Instead of opposing a Tea Party movement, Democrats are facing a Trump cult. The Third District, while still maintains a Democratic registration advantage, has lost the Democratic stronghold of Cherry Hill. Groups like Action Together have become a political force. Political polarization is at a peak.

I believe that one of the reasons that Adler lost his re-election bid was his vote against the Affordable Care Act. Maybe his loss to a football player was inevitable, but to those of us on the left, his vote was a betrayal. He may have retained the vote of die-hard Republicans, but as we have learned, regular voters are not enough. Enthusiasm translates sporadic voters into real votes.

While I avidly and proactively supported Andy Kim, I disagreed with his position on the re-election of Nancy Pelosi as Speaker. His political advisors probably did what they thought best, but if the Democrats are to seize their opportunity, Pelosi has the best chance of uniting this diverse group of the new majority.

The Republican machine in Burlington County may be wounded, but they are still a formidable political force and will undoubtedly put up a strong candidate to oppose Kim in two years. Names being bandied about include a telegenic former Navy SEAL, another sports personality, or even our former Lieutenant Governor who resides in an adjacent District.

So how should Andy Kim legislate? His campaign promises include stronger gun safety laws and campaign finance reform. If he follows up, will that alienate moderates and independents that he would need for a second term? If he tacks to the center, will that blow the wind out of the sails of his ardent Action Together supporters? It will be a delicate balance, but I’m sure Kim is well-aware and politically astute enough to stay balanced on this precarious tightrope.

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