This primary race in New Jersey will set the stage for the race to replace Andy Kim

Five New Jersey Democrats and four Republicans are running in the primary to replace U.S. Rep. Andy Kim in the House of Representatives.

On the Democratic side, two members of the New Jersey General Assembly could have an advantage over a handful of political outsiders in the race for open seats. In the GOP race, one candidate is leading in fundraising while another has the support of the GOP establishment.

The Third Congressional District includes almost all of Burlington County and parts of predominantly Democratic Mercer County and parts of Republican-leaning Monmouth County. Democrats make up almost 36% of the district’s voters, and Republicans make up just over 26%. As of May, the number of unaffiliated voters outnumbers both parties at almost 37%.

Kim flipped the South Jersey district blue in a close race in 2018, and it did transferred in 2022 to include more democratic areas. The three-term member of Congress has an straightforward path to the Democratic nomination for the US Senate, but he has not supported the main candidate who would replace him in the district.

From running companions to opponents

Democratic Burlington County Assembly members Deputy Speaker Herb Conaway and Carol Murphy, majority whip, both 61, have the advantage of already representing residents of the district. Civil rights lawyer Joe Cohn, business owner Sarah Schoengood and teacher Brian Schkeeper are also running in the Democratic primary.

Conaway led the fundraising group as of March 31stand raised nearly $360,000. That’s almost three times as much as Cohn and Murphy – the next highest fundraisers – who each raised more than $120,000, with Cohn raising slightly more than Murphy.

Additionally, Conaway has since received financial support from outside groups, the 314 Action Fund, which aims to elect scientists, and VoteVets, which supports veterans running for office, the New Jersey Globe reported. Conaway served in the Air Force Medical Corps for four years.

Murphy has support from EMILY’s lista group working to choose women who support the right to abortion.

Throughout the race, Conaway criticized Murphy for what he relied on identity politics by campaigning to potentially be the first woman to represent South Jersey in Congress. Murphy confronted him about this at debate conducted by the New Jersey Globe, On New Jersey and Rider University and responded that a candidate’s race or gender “should not be the primary driver of a campaign.”

“I am a person of color who represents a majority-white district and governs without regard to sex, race, gender or any other distinction,” Conaway said.

Murphy responded: “My experience as a woman is important and that is why we have never elected a woman from South Jersey to Congress.”

” READ MORE: “Women for Murphy”, but which ones? A New Jersey congressional candidate uses a photo of the governor’s supporters

But Conaway followed a similar script in his introductory remarks during the same debate, saying that the elections would be historic for him.

“If elected, I will be the nation’s first Black physician to serve in Congress and the first African American to represent South Jersey in Congress,” he said.

Conaway and Murphy were running mates who represented a joint Assembly district. They agree on various issues, such as abortion rights, but differed during the debate on universal health care.

Conaway said he does not support a single-payer system and does not think Americans are ready for a government-run health care system. But he said he supports helping people access health care, such as providing the option to buy into Medicare.

On the other hand, Murphy said she supports protecting Medicare and pushing for universal health care. She said health care is a human right.

Conaway has held the position since 1998 and Murphy since 2018.

Political outsiders in the Democratic race

Civil rights lawyer Cohn, 44, of Burlington County, and Schoengood, 30, a business owner who lives in Monmouth County, also passionately advocated for the nomination.

Cohn, of Lumberton, says in his campaign that he is “progressive where it’s productive” and “moderate where it matters.” He says he can take on extremists by working with those who disagree with him but also want to solve problems.

For more than a decade, Cohn led government work for The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, a Philadelphia-based organization that advocates for free speech on campuses, also known as “FIRE.” He said he advocates for free speech policies in almost every state and has successfully worked with all sides of the political spectrum. He also worked for the AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania and briefly for the ACLU.

Schoengood, of Manalapan, runs a seafood distribution business with her husband. She said that while interning with U.S. Rep. Jerry Nadler (D., N.Y.) and U.S. Rep. Bonnie Coleman Watson (D., N.J.), she saw both how government can be used for good and how broken.

She has fallen behind in fundraising, and in the eyes of New Jersey Globe editor David Wildstein, she hasn’t clear enough path to victory to take part in the debate around the publication with Schkeeper.

However, Schoengood, who raised just over $20,000, argued that she didn’t need a lot of money to succeed in her grassroots campaign and bristled at being judged by her funds and social media followers for participating in the debate.

Schkeeper, an Ocean City Schools high school music teacher who lives in Medford, Burlington County, lags far behind his competitors in terms of funding and has only recently made a paltry $3,554 in campaign contributions, most of which has not been spent by the end March.

Schkeeper, whose father committed suicide when he was a childhe told the Inquirer that voters would hear his “relevance to issues directly related to their livelihoods and livelihoods,” which would propel him to victory.

The larger shift in New Jersey politics erased the special advantage Conaway initially had in the race, potentially helping Murphy and… first-time candidates: county line.

New Jersey’s ballot design, known as the “county line,” caused candidates supported by the county party to appear together on the ballot, which was seen as unfairly empowering candidates favored by the establishment.

Due to the lawsuit filed by Kim, in which Schoengood was a co-plaintiff, the old bill will not appear on the ballot in the Democratic primary.

“If someone had asked me this before the county was decided, I would have said unequivocally that Herb Conaway was the clear favorite,” said Micah Rasmussen, director of the Rebovich Policy Institute in New Jersey at Rider University.

“I think the end of the series gave Carol Murphy a lot of current life and a lot of current opportunities that she might not have had otherwise,” he added.

Do Republicans have a chance to flip the district?

In most New Jersey counties, the county line will still appear on Republican primary ballots.

The line will not be on Burlington County vote because the county clerk decided to comply with the federal ruling in Kim’s case, but Rajesh Mohan, a cardiologist, will be on the line in Monmouth and Mercer counties and the Burlington County Republican Screening Committee he supported him.

Mohan, 60, from Holmdel, Monmouth County, acted unsuccessfully as an independent against Republicans in the 2022 county commission race before running as one.

In his campaign videos, he calls himself the district’s “Republican candidate,” which can be misleading for people who don’t know much about the race.

Mohan did not respond to an interview request, but his campaign website shows he wants to reform the Affordable Care Act, coordinate with NATO allies, fight for health care and Social Security for seniors, strengthen border security and streamline the asylum process by detention, it happens at U.S. consulates “in neighboring and amiable countries,” not at the border.

Although the conservative doctor does not mention abortion on his website, shared a post from a right-wing account on X attacks Conaway on abortion.

Although Mohan has support from the establishment, his biggest rival Shirley Maia-Cusick, 63, has raised almost twice as much as he has.

Maia-Cusick, a lawyer who currently lives in Medford in Burlington County, after being suspended she moved to the district from Bethlehem in Hunterdon County Senate campaign.

He works as an immigration consultant and advertises his work as “all immigration matters,” including participating in U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services interviews, ICE visits, detention center visits, and case management of immigration applications. But she said closing the border was her top priority.

Maia-Cusick, who is from Brazil, said it was unfair for undocumented people to enter the country when she immigrated legally.

“In all my time living here, I have never seen a crisis like this,” she said. “What a shameful and disgusting situation. The border, everything, is really wrong.

She also praised her support for the military, law enforcement and Social Security.

Another candidate, Grzegorz Sobociński, is behind in fundraising and did not respond to an interview request. Sobociński he ran unsuccessfully as an independent in 2022 and placed himself to the right of both his Republican and Democratic competitors.

Republican Michael Francis Faccone, the next candidate in the race, did not provide any campaign finance data as of late March.

Even though the district is currently leaning blue, Carlos Cruz, a Republican political consultant from New Jersey, said Democratic front-runners Conaway and Murphy are not as strong candidates as Kim.

Am I saying this is a definite turnaround? No, but I like our chances,” Cruz said.

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