It’s been 10 days since the Associated Press projected Democratic U.S. Rep. Tom Malinowski as the winner in his close race for re-election against Republican challenger Tom Kean Jr. in New Jersey’s 7th congressional district.
But in the state’s most unusual, largely mail-in election, Malinowski’s lead has gradually narrowed in recent days, and Kean has not conceded.
As of Friday afternoon, Malinowski was in front by only 4,327 votes — or a 1% margin — with 97% of precincts reporting. It’s unclear how many ballots still need to be counted.
Malinowski led by about 28,000 votes with 60% of precincts reporting when the AP declared the freshman congressman the winner just after midnight on Election Night.
The AP has stood by its call. The New York Times has withdrew its own projection this week, saying the race is now too close.
It’s an increasingly tense (but not unexpected) situation in a race that will determine whether Malinowski wins a second term in the traditionally Republican area — or whether Republicans can regain a House seat two years after Democrats flipped four of the state’s 12 congressional districts.
These are the latest results compiled by the Associated Press:
Republicans still feel Kean, the state Senate minority leader and the son of former Gov. Tom Kean, has a chance.
“Every vote needs to be counted in this election before anyone can claim victory or defeat,” Harrison Neely, Kean’s campaign manager, told NJ Advance Media. “They are counting ballots in the order they were received, and we know from tracking returns there was heavy Republican turnout in the days leading up to the election. This race is not over yet.”
Malinowski’s campaign is confident the victory will stand.
“We all have to be patient and trust in the democratic process, but we’re confident that when the votes have been counted Tom Malinowski will be re-elected,” said Daniel Fleiss, the congressman’s campaign manager.
Most of the outstanding votes heading into Friday were in Union County, Kean’s home county. But the county reported 100% of its vote by Friday afternoon, with Malinowski leading by 9.4 percentage points.
The district includes all of Hunterdon County and parts of Somerset, Essex, Morris, Union, and Warren counties.
That ballots are still being counted is not surprising. To help protect the state against the coronavirus pandemic, Gov. Phil Murphy ordered all mail-in ballots be sent to all registered New Jersey voters, and those had to be postmarked by Nov. 3 but could still be received until Tuesday — a week after Election Day. Meanwhile, people who voted in person did so by provisional ballot, and election officials couldn’t even start counting them until Tuesday. Voters also had time after Election Day to challenge any disqualifications, such as what appeared to be a mismatched signature.
“I don’t think anyone quite understood just how long it would take to get the results,” said Ben Dworkin, director of Rowan University’s Institute for Public Policy and Citizenship. “This could be a race decided by a 1,000 votes or less, one way or the other. We’ll have to see how it all plays out.”
Dworkin said he never expected the race to be a blowout. Malinowski unseated five-term Republican Rep. Leonard Lance in 2018 to capture the seat in President Donald Trump’s midterm elections.
But Malinowski was the first Democrat to win the district since 1956, and this was one of only 22 districts nationally that supported Hillary Clinton while also electing a Republican House member in 2016.
If Malinowski wins, Democrats will continue to hold 10 of the state’s 12 seats in the House.
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