New Jersey Rep. Leonard Lance’s seat is up for grabs this year, according to the Cook Political Report, which shifted his district on Friday from “lean Republican” to a “toss up.”
Cook modified its predictions for Lance’s 7th district days after Democrat Conor Lamb pulled off an upset victory in Pennsylvania’s 18th district, where President Trump had trounced Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election. The ratings change also comes as Tom Malinowski emerges as the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination to challenge Lance, a Republican who has held the seat since 2009.
“Lance survived another very difficult year for Republicans, 2008. But white-collar central New Jersey is now questioning its allegiance to the GOP in the era of Trump much more than it did then,” wrote David Wasserman, Cook’s House editor. “Lance received a weak 54 percent in 2016 against a poorly funded opponent, and if voters see this race as a referendum on Trump, Lance’s moderate reputation may not save him.”
It’s the second time Cook has shifted the district to the left ahead of the midterm election, having moved the seat from “likely Republican” to “lean Republican” in May.
Democrats hope to seize on Trump’s unpopularity in New Jersey and make gains in the Republican-controlled House. Lamb’s win in Pennsylvania on Tuesday is the latest sign that Democrats could benefit from a wave election in November.
New Jersey’s 7th district voted for Clinton by one point in 2016. But Kim Guadagno, the Republican nominee for governor, carried the district in the 2017 gubernatorial election.
“D.C. prognosticators are foolish if they think this race has changed. Just four months ago, the 7th district voted for the Republican candidate for governor by almost seven percent and 14,000 votes,” Jim Hilk, Lance’s campaign manager, said in a statement. “Leonard is the same guy. He’s always been an independent, problem-solving representative, voting his conscience and what’s in the best interests of his constituents. Always accessible, holding town hall meeting and providing outstanding constituents service. He’s been endorsed by business and labor, teachers and police, firefighters and veterans. He fits the district to a T.”
Malinowski, a former assistant secretary of state under President Barack Obama, recently became the clear favorite for the Democratic nomination in the district. After winning the endorsement of the Union County Democratic Committee on Sunday, Malinowski’s chief primary opponent, banker Linda Weber, suspended her campaign.
“It’s no coincidence the rating did not shift until Tom emerged as the presumptive Democratic nominee,” Colston Reid, Malinowski’s campaign manager, said in a statement. “Tom has spent his career in public service, standing up for human rights, women’s rights and worker’s rights. Leonard Lance has never been forced to run a competitive race against a distinguished, well-resourced opponent. He’s voted against the interests of New Jersey voters—against affordable health care, against a woman’s right to choose, against gun safety. Tom offers the kind of change voters in the 7th district are looking for.”
Lance has raised $790,000, while Malinowski’s campaign has brought in $528,000 as of December, according to filings with the Federal Election Commission.