Two New Jersey Republicans are embroiled in a bitter battle for the nomination to take on a vulnerable House Democrat who won in 2018 by a single percentage point.
Tuesday’s primary will bring to an end the matchup between former Hill International Inc. CEO David Richter and former Burlington County Freeholder Kate Gibbs, who have slammed each other’s reputations and split New Jersey’s 3rd District in two, all in hopes of a showdown with Rep. Andy Kim (D).
The candidates themselves see it as self-defeating.
The incumbent “has $4 million that he’s raised, and meanwhile the two of us, we’re spending time, money, and resources hurting each other,” Gibbs said in an interview. “It’s definitely going to be more difficult in the general election.”
Richter called Gibbs’ ads “disappointing, especially from a fellow Republican.”
Richter, who dropped his challenge to Rep. Jeff Van Drew (R) in the 2nd District after Van Drew switched parties, set off a negative ad blitz when he entered the race. He targeted Gibbs’ past legal issues in an ad comparing her to Snooki from MTV’s “Jersey Shore,” which was filmed in the district, and bashing her ties to local trade labor unions.
Gibbs said she takes responsibility for her legal issues in college. Richter said the Gibbs campaign has “spread lies” about him.
Gibbs called Richter “shady” in one ad and accused his company of having a business partnership with Moammar Gadhafi’s regime in Libya.
“I was definitely surprised at how vicious it got early on,” New Jersey Republican consultant Mike DuHaime said. “I don’t think that’s helpful to the party.”
Kim’s $3.2 million on hand as of June 17 was exponentially more than either Republican. The Cook Political Report rates the general election race as a toss-up, though Inside Elections downgraded the race’s competitiveness to “leans Democratic.”
The Democrat unseated two-term Republican Tom MacArthur in 2018 after criticizing the incumbent’s role in legislation to change the Affordable Care Act. The district, based in Ocean and Burlington counties, stretches across South Jersey through the Pine Barrens to include both Philadelphia suburbs and Atlantic shoreline.
Richter raised and spent more than Gibbs, and his $208,000 on hand for the final weeks of the primary was more than twice what Gibbs had. Both were included in the National Republican Congressional Committee’s Young Guns program for promising candidates.
Chris Russell, a Gibbs consultant, said the two represent differing sides of the GOP. Gibbs is a 34-year-old who may appeal to unaffiliated suburban women the Republicans lost in 2018, while Richter is more of a “run-of-the-mill” candidate, Russell said.
Gibbs was endorsed by the Republican Main Street Partnership, which supports more-moderate candidates.
“If we’re going to win in tough swing states and in tough states like New Jersey, we have to move beyond the candidates who look the same, sound the same, are the same,” Russell said. “If she’s able to get through this
primary, she’s gonna be the candidate who gets some attention on a national stage just because of those factors.”
On the Line
Richter, who spoke at Trump’s New Jersey rally in January, won the endorsement of the Ocean County GOP, which means he’ll have the preferential ballot position “on the line” with Trump and local officials, DuHaime said.
Gibbs won the backing of the Burlington County GOP and will have the same preferential position there, though DuHaime said there are more primary voters in Ocean County.
“Those lines have a lot of value on election day because a lot of people will just go in and vote the line and be done,” Richter said. “There are more Republican voters in Ocean County and they tend to be more loyal to the party line when they vote.”
DuHaime said Richter’s fundraising and the Ocean County party endorsement gives him an edge in the primary. The county parties have historically delivered for their slate of candidates, he said, but the circumstances of the primary, which was delayed from is initial June 2 date, have made the race more unpredictable.
“This is a crazy year, and does the ballot line matter in an all mail-in primary? We’ve never had an all mail-in primary before,” DuHaime said. “We’ll see what turnout is like.”
To contact the reporter on this story: Samantha Handler in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org