WASHINGTON ― Democrat Andy Kim, a former Obama administration official who returned to his home district to challenge New Jersey’s strongest Donald Trump ally on Capitol Hill, was running neck and neck with Rep. Tom MacArthur as of Tuesday evening.
With 99 percent of precincts reporting, the gap between Kim and MacArthur was less than half a percentage point. Neither side declared victory.
Voters in New Jersey’s 3rd Congressional District, a sprawling, largely white district that spans the state from the Philadelphia suburbs to the Jersey Shore, were nearly evenly divided on Trump in 2016.
Trump beat Democratic rival Hillary Clinton in the district by 6 percentage points, and it was one of 21 congressional districts that swung for Trump after breaking for Obama in 2012. The district includes Burlington County, which leans blue, and a large chunk of Ocean County, which is solidly Republican territory.
MacArthur, a millionaire former insurance executive who moved into the district from northern Jersey to run for Congress, had tried to paint Kim, the son of South Korean immigrants, as an outsider. A super PAC connected to House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) ran an ad telling voters Kim was “not one of us,” while the New Jersey Republican Party mailed out racist fliers featuring a photo of fish heads that depicted Kim’s name in a “chop suey” font.
Kim, a former White House national security adviser who grew up in Marlton, didn’t speak a lot about Trump in a district that is closely divided on the president. His message focused on MacArthur’s key role in helping the House pass a bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act as well as MacArthur’s vote for Trump’s tax cut law, which will affect a number of New Jersey residents due to the state’s notoriously high property taxes.
MacArthur’s campaign portrayed him as a bipartisan congressman who was willing to stand up to Trump when necessary. “Andy Kim is running to protest Trump. I’m running to represent you, whether you like Trump or not,” MacArthur told voters in one campaign ad.
Historically, New Jersey’s 3rd District has sent a Republican to Congress even when breaking blue in the presidential election. Democrats failed to field a viable candidate in 2016, with the nominee receiving just $600 in campaign donations. Kim raised $5.2 million, which helped his campaign run ads in a district that includes two of the nation’s most expensive media markets: New York and Philadelphia. MacArthur, who spent more than $5 million of his own money in his first congressional race, loaned his own campaign $1.4 million in the 2018 cycle.
Kim promised supporters his campaign would organize “the largest get-out-the-vote operation that this district has ever seen,” and volunteers engaged in a massive door-knocking campaign to flip the district.
If elected, Kim would be the first Korean-American in Congress in nearly two decades and the first-ever Korean-American Democrat.