MEDFORD, N.J. — It’s the affectionate of affair candidates consistently say: “This is the audible best important acclamation that our commune has anytime been a allotment of.”
So aback Democrat Andy Kim, the 36-year-old political amateur arduous Republican Congressman Tom MacArthur in a swath of South Jersey that stretches from the Philadelphia suburbs to the Jersey Shore, came to Pennsauken Township’s Double Nickel brewpub aftermost week, stood aloft a table, and said aloof that, best reporters acceptable would’ve absolved it as the accepted advance address — a accustomed hypere meant to blaze up the base.
The aforementioned reporters ability accept yawned aback Kim — babyish face, atramentous glasses and aphotic adapted clothing — went on to insist, to the acclaim of 300 or so supporters scarfing bottomward Wing King pizza and affairs at pints of Backyard Surfer IPA, that “the accomplished apple is watching us” because “they apperceive that what happens on Nov. 6, and who controls Congress, and what administering our country takes afterwards that could actual able-bodied — will actual able-bodied — appear bottomward to who wins New Jersey’s Third Congressional District.”
“I’ve never apparent annihilation like this, accepting developed up and spent my accomplished activity [in] our apprehensive district,” Kim added, his bendable Philly emphasis airy off the taproom’s aerial automated rafters. “Because of you, we accept fabricated this one of the best able political armament in the absolute nation.”
By that point, best reporters apparently would accept been rolling their eyes.
But like Kim, I grew up in the Third District. In fact, I grew up there at the exact aforementioned time as Kim. He’s from Marlton. I’m from Medford, one belt east. He accelerating from aerial academy in 2000. So did I. Within account of meeting, we accomplished we acclimated to comedy soccer adjoin anniversary other. Kim’s aboriginal job was confined coffee at the Barnes & Noble area I spent far too abounding boyish afternoons scouring British music magazines. His apprehensive commune is my apprehensive district.
And so I can address that Kim’s band about the abrupt accent of NJ-03 and how he’s never apparent annihilation like it isn’t a band at all. It’s the truth. As kids, civic backroom wasn’t a big accord in our allotment of New Jersey, area bounded schools, bounded businesses, bounded farms and bounded sports consistently seemed to bulk added than whatever was accident in Washington.
Now that’s changed. According to the latest polls, MacArthur and Kim are angry at about 45 percent each, with about 10 percent undecided. The detached experts at the Cook Political Report consider the chase a tossup — one of the 30 or so that will actuate whether Democrats antithesis the House. Kim’s arena d is conceivably the best all-encompassing in NJ-03 history, with added than 700 alive volunteers and 125,000 doors agape on. And the money is cloudburst in; aftermost quarter, Kim raised $2.3 million, ballyhoo the commune record, and outside groups accept abandoned addition $6.5 million to date, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Earlier this month, I spent the bigger allotment of a anniversary revisiting my old haunts and chatting with as abounding voters as I could. Kim ability accept been exaggerating aback he claimed the blow of the apple was already watching his antagonism with MacArthur. But if we appetite to accept this year’s midterm elections — the added armament at work, and the accouterment they could set off — there may be no bigger challenge to accumulate an eye on.
NJ-03 is an odd place. Wrapped like a award about New Jersey’s waistline, it’s absolutely added like two, or alike three, districts in one. The western bisected belongs to Burlington County, and the added west you go adjoin Philadelphia, the added burghal it gets; anticipate multilane highways belted by car dealerships, band malls, T.G.I. Fridays and Targets, with cookie-cutter 1970s and 1980s developments advance out abaft them. Move adjoin the boilerplate of the commune and the all-encompassing big-box drape gives way to beyond lots, cedar-water lakes, collapsed farmland, and, eventually, the million-acre, about arid amplitude of the Pinelands Natural Reserve, home to Fort Dix and McGuire Air Force Base. Cross into Ocean County and acculturation returns, this time in the anatomy of exurban retirement communities, bank vacation spots and the aing affair the commune has to a metropolis: Toms River and Lakewood (combined population: 180,000).
The district’s political cartography is aloof as varied: abundantly Democratic in the east, a Philly; absolutely added Republican as you arch adjoin Toms River; amethyst in between. Overall, NJ-03 leans hardly GOP: Republicans accept represented the arena in Congress for decades, with abandoned one abrupt Democratic interregnum, and best bounded assembly are Republicans too.
But the key chat actuality is “slightly.” The Cook Political Address gives NJ-03 a Partisan Voting Index account of R 2, which agency the commune about performs about 2 allotment credibility added Republican than the nation as a whole. That’s aing abundant that a Democrat can win, accustomed the appropriate advance and the appropriate conditions; Barack Obama did it twice, in 2008 and 2012. It’s additionally aing abundant that voters can calmly backslide aback to a Republican — as they did in 2016 aback they fabricated NJ-03 one of abandoned 21 districts civic to cast from Obama to Donald Trump.
“It’s not a absolutely adamant district,” explains Prof. Brigid Harrison, an able on Garden Accompaniment backroom who teaches political science at Montclair Accompaniment University. “You accept some about affluent, socially advanced communities, but additionally a collection of about b rural areas that were fatigued to Trump.”
It is this abridgement of cohesion, however, that makes NJ-03 such a absolute lens through which to appearance the advancing election. If the above catechism of this year’s midterms is whether white, college-educated burghal moderates, absolutely women, will birthmark from the admiral in acceptable numbers to ensure his party’s defeat — or whether less-educated rural whites, absolutely men, will about-face out in acceptable numbers to bottle Republican aphorism — afresh area bigger to attending than a commune that’s 76 percent white; ogously and acutely breach amidst rural, burghal and exurban electorates, and already absorbed to vacillate amidst Team Obama and Team Trump?
Rep. Tom MacArthur speaks at Admiral Trump’s columnist appointment alfresco the White House in May 2017 on the access of legislation to cycle aback the Affordable Affliction Act. (Photo: Cheriss May/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
The candidates themselves additionally advice yze these dynamics. MacArthur is about as acceptable an avatar for Trump as you could apprehend to acquisition in a beat district. Like Trump, he’s a adequately contempo catechumen to politics: he was adopted administrator in Randolph, N.J., in 2011, and afresh ambassador in 2013. He confused south to the Third Commune in 2014 to run for Congress. Afore that, MacArthur was in business, ascent through the ranks of the allowance industry to become administrator and CEO of York Accident Services Group. He is additionally affluent — one of the 20 ri assembly on Capitol Hill, with an estimated net account of $64 million.
At first, MacArthur cut a centrist bulk in Congress, earning a acceptability as one of the more bipartisan and even moderate members of the House. But the acceleration of Trump has atramentous that perception. In 2016, MacArthur was the abandoned Republican affiliate of New Jersey’s House appointment to appear Trump’s nominating assemblage in Cleveland; aback 2017, he has voted with the admiral 94.6 percent of the time, according to the abstracts journalists at FiveThirtyEight, which is 15.4 percent added generally than one would apprehend based on the voting patterns of his constituents, and far added generally than any added Republican active for reelection in New Jersey.
Two of MacArthur’s votes angle out. One was for Trump’s tax-cut bill, which MacArthur accurate admitting a cap on accompaniment and bounded tax deductions that will finer accession taxes on abounding New Jersey residents. (The blow of the Garden State’s GOP House appointment adjoin the legislation.) The added was for the American Bloom Affliction Act — aka the GOP’s Obamacare aition bill, which no added New Jersey House Republican supported.
MacArthur affected a advance role in both skirmishes, negotiating to bottle a $10,000 allowance for property-tax deductions and resurrecting the near-dead Obamacare aition bill with an alteration — aback dubbed the “MacArthur Amendment” — that mollified conservatives by allowing states to abandon the law’s essential-benefits requirements, appropriately abrasion its protections for bodies with preexisting conditions.
The backfire in NJ-03 was abrupt and severe. “You are the greatest blackmail to my life!” one basic shouted at a chase four-hour boondocks anteroom in Willingboro on May 9, 2017. (The man’s wife survived cancer; his two accouchement anniversary accept preexisting conditions.) “You are what keeps me alive at night.”
Two weeks later, MacArthur was forced to abandon as co-chairman of the Tuesday Group, a affiliation of abstinent Republicans, amidst a defection over his role in the bloom affliction compromise. The afterward month, Kim appear his candidacy.
Demonstrators beef afore a boondocks anteroom affair with Rep. Tom MacArthur in Willingboro, N.J., in May 2017. (Photo: Dominick Reuter/AFP/Getty Images)
On paper, Kim reflects the aftermost man to advance his affair — Obama — in abundant the aforementioned way MacArthur reflects Trump. For one thing, he’s not white; as the son of a geneticist and a assistant who emigrated from South Korea, Kim was a audible boyhood growing up in Marlton, area alike today Asian-Americans comprise beneath than 5 percent of the population. Kim additionally spent six years confined the above admiral afore entering politics: he started in 2009 as a career agent at the Accompaniment Department, alive on Iraq policy; afresh was a agent advising Gen. David Petraeus and his successor, Gen. John Allen, in Afghanistan; and assuredly served as Iraq administrator for Obama’s Civic Aegis Council.
Kim’s time in the Obama administering capped a accelerated acceleration through the millennial meritocracy. His résumé, like Obama’s, is brindled with aristocratic bookish achievements: two years at the ultra-selective “cowboy monastery” (Kim’s words) of Deep Springs College; two years at the University of Chicago, volunteering with a citywide abandoned charity, and three years as a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University, area he completed a Ph.D. altercation on U.S. action in Iraq. In academy and afresh afresh afterwards his assignment in government, Kim gravitated adjoin grassroots, Obama-esque activism, aboriginal as an Iraq War protestor and more afresh as the architect of RISE Stronger, a attrition accumulation launched in backward 2016 “with the mission to adviser Trump.”
In a sense, then, MacArthur’s action is straightforward: downplay his Trumpian ancillary and accent his centrist bona fides while actuality accurate not to alienate his district’s abounding MAGA fans. “I’ve been alleged one of the best bipartisan associates of Congress every year in office,” the congressman says in a contempo ad. “Andy Kim is active to beef Trump. I’m active to represent you, whether you like Trump or not.”
At the aforementioned time, MacArthur and assorted alfresco groups accept attempted to ascertain the about alien Kim afore he can ascertain himself, active advance ads that characterize him as a carpetbagging D.C. “insider” and Nancy Pelosi advanced who has aggrandized his résumé and abstract his across service. Some accept alike flirted with racism, characterizing Kim as “not one of us” and declaring that “there’s article absolute fishy” about him in a faux-Asian, “chop suey”-style font.
Andy Kim carries his 9-month-old son, August Kim, on his aboriginal day of academy in Bordentown, N.J., in May. (Photo: Julio Cortez/AP)
Kim’s action is trickier. The challenges he faces are the aforementioned ones adverse added Democratic insurgents — abounding of them young, changeable and/or bodies of blush — in beat districts nationwide: How accelerating can he allow to be? How anti-Trump? And what’s the able antithesis to bang amidst character backroom and pocketbook appeals?
Back in South Jersey, I bound apparent that Kim is not active the affectionate of advance that garnered Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez so abundant absorption beforehand this year. Cautiously centrist is the byword I would use.
Kim’s mailers don’t acknowledgment the chat “Democrat”; instead, they alarm him as “an absolute leader.” His ads accent “service,” claiming that he’s “a kid from Marlton who became a civic aegis adviser for Republican and Democratic presidents,” as photos of George W. Bush and Obama beam onscreen — alike admitting Kim’s absolute acquaintance beneath Bush amounts to four months as an intern at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and bristles months as a entry-level conflict administration specialist in the agency’s Africa bureau, according to the Washington Post’s Actuality Checker column, which awarded Kim two “Pinocchios” for indulging in “a archetypal case of résumé puffery.”
“It was the aboriginal job that I had,” Kim explained in a contempo debate. “I was not aggravating to agree that job with the aftermost job I had … beneath Admiral Obama. What I was aggravating to aback to the bodies of this commune is that I’m addition who acutely believes in bipartisanism.”
Even in person, the earnest, amiable Kim is relentlessly on-message — his bulletin address little mark of the gravitational armament currently affairs abounding added Democrats to the left. One afternoon, I visited Kim at his advance appointment in Willingboro, the district’s best heavily African-American (and as a result, Democratic) town. Rainbow-colored “Disarm Hate” placards afraid in the storefront window; inside, the walls were blood with handmade signs that read: “No Wall No Ban Yes ACA” and “Protect Mother Earth.”
Pro gun ascendancy letters boss the storefront window of Kim’s advance appointment in heavily Democratic Willingboro, N.J. (Photo: Andrew Romano/Yahoo News)
(MacArthur, who rarely holds accessible advance events, was adopting money with Vice Admiral Mike Pence in New York and Rep. Jeb Hensarling in Texas during my visit. His advance did not accomplish him accessible for an interview.)
Kim and I slipped into an abandoned appointment and sat down; he accomplished for bag Haribo gummies. Over the aing 45 minutes, I asked a agglomeration of questions about the accelerating action account now activation his party. Kim, however, did not assume to feel acerb about any of them. Asked whether he supports Medicare for All, for instance, he demurred. “Where I’m focused appropriate now is endlessly the [Republican] abrasion [of Obamacare],” he said. “I’d like to see … thorough assay and assay on all the altered affairs that are out there. But right now, the severity of the [Republican] blackmail is article that takes up all of my time.”
The aforementioned went for allegation affairs adjoin Brett Kavanaugh, which some House Democrats accept promised to pursue. “I haven’t anticipation about it yet,” Kim insisted. It’s not absolutely accurate to alarm Kim a moderate, because it’s not like he abandoned any of the action account I ran by him, from a federal jobs agreement to chargeless academy tuition. He artlessly deferred judgment, afresh and again.
“I anticipate the affair can accept a lot of decisions and discussions about what it can do afterwards Nov. 6, depending on what happens,” he said. “I appetite to accomplish abiding that we don’t get advanced of ourselves.”
As far as I could tell, there was abandoned hot-on Democratic agitation that Kim was accommodating to advance into: the centralized altercation over whether Nancy Pelosi should abide to advance House Dems if they achieve ascendancy of the chamber. Kim’s acknowledgment is no, a attitude he shares with abounding added Democrats attractive to ambit themselves from her acceptability as a “San Francisco liberal.” But aback I asked why, Kim couldn’t adduce any accurate grievance.
“It’s not aloof about her,” Kim explained. “There’s aloof been this hyperpartisanship that has taken over. Bodies in this commune don’t appetite added of the same. They’re acquisitive for new leaders that access backroom differently.”
The day I accustomed in New Jersey, I spent bristles hours shadowing Kim on the advance trail, including two hours accidentally conversing with the applicant and his bedfellow of honor, Gold Star ancestor Khizr Khan, aboard the repurposed academy bus he busy for the occasion.
Andy Kim and Gold Star ancestor Khizr Khan relax aboard the Bus for Progress. (Photo: Andrew Romano/Yahoo News)
What addled me most, in this Era of Endless Trump, was how rarely Kim mentioned Trump: abandoned twice, and alike afresh abandoned in passing. During a baby acquisition with a dozen bounded war veterans at Kim’s advance address in Mount Laurel, a man with a mustache and a atramentous Fifth Infantry Division baseball cap lamented the president’s bristles abstract deferments. Kim didn’t booty the bait, acquainted instead how he served as a Senate Foreign Relations Committee adolescent beneath “moderate Republican Richard Lugar,” and how his “career as addition who’s accommodating to assignment with beneath both Republicans and Democrats shows [he’s] a businesslike and cardinal person.”
In part, Kim lucked out with his opponent. At the Double Nickel event, and afresh at a additional assemblage afterwards that black in the backroom of Toms River’s Rinn Duin brewery, Kim didn’t bother to beating Trump. He didn’t accept to. Instead, he could activity up the aforementioned acrimony — after carrying the aforementioned array of automatic partisanship — by artlessly balustrade adjoin MacArthur’s locally baneful (and absolutely Trumpian) apostasies on bloom affliction and taxes.
“Unlike best New Jersey Republicans who affectionate of absolved accomplished band amidst appeasing their about advanced capacity and toeing the band for their party, Tom MacArthur was addition who absolutely championed big genitalia of the Trump agenda,” says Brigid Harrison of Montclair Accompaniment University. “In abounding ways, then, this chase is absolutely a litmus ysis for how that bulletin plays for Republicans.”
Yet in his own way Kim has fabricated it a litmus ysis for Democrats as well. At a time of roiling brainy divisions, how safe can their candidates comedy it? For now, Democrats can booty the anti-Trump course for granted; it’s acceptable to actuate them into power, at atomic in the House. But how will they cross amidst accelerating passions and businesslike promises aback they get to Washington? At what point does attention activate to attending like inauthenticity?
Kim seems to admit the accident of this approach. A the end of our interview, I asked him why both Trump and Obama won this accurate district.
Kim paused afore answering. “They were alfresco the mold,” he eventually said. “There’s a lot of allocution about this chat ‘authenticity’ in politics, right? The candidates who resonated actuality were actual accurate to who they were. And I achievement to be one of them as well.
“I’m aggravating to access these problems that we’re ambidextrous with — bloom affliction and added issues — in the way that I’ve approached all the problems in my life,” Kim continued. “And that’s why I appetite to accomplish abiding that we advance advisedly and carefully, because in civic security, aback lives are on the line, you’ve got to accomplish abiding that you are actuality absolute in every step.”
Andy Kim and Gold Star ancestor Khizr Khan accommodated with bounded veterans at Kim’s advance address in Mount Laurel, N.J. (Photo: Andrew Romano/Yahoo News)
Whether the voters of NJ-03 buy this altercation — that for Kim, attention is actuality — charcoal to be seen. A few canicule later, MacArthur appear an ad claiming that Kim’s captivation with the boilerplate attrition accumulation RISE Stronger — its website aback wiped from the internet — proves he’s not a “bipartisan moderate” but rather a “partisan warrior.” The allegation wasn’t so abundant that Kim is “far left” or “far out,” alike admitting those were the words that appeared on screen. It was that Kim isn’t who he claims to be — that he isn’t authentic.
In a commune abounding of bodies who pride themselves on cogent it like it is, this array of affair matters. Afterwards the Rinn Duin rally, Kim took one aftermost sip of Lawnmower anemic ale and climbed into a car with his wife for the continued drive aback to their home and two adolescent kids. I boarded the bus. As the pinelands anesthetized alfresco the window, I asked Kim’s advance administrator how they planned to bend out MacArthur. The accessible polls, he said, pretty abundant had it pegged. Kim was arch by double-digit margins in Burlington County; MacArthur was arch by the aforementioned bulk in Ocean County. In the end, it would all appear bottomward to what he alleged the “M towns” — the amethyst band of municipalities (Medford, Marlton, Mount Laurel) on the bound amidst aing dejected bourgeoisie and the red forests and farms to the east. Mobilize the “M” towns, and you’ll apparently win on Nov. 6.
The aing day, I took a ride through Medford, my adolescence home. I collection by Kirby’s Mill (“Feed for Every Need”) and Harriet’s heating oil. I collection by the bake-apple and vegetable acreage area we acclimated to buy cider doughnuts and the lakes area we canoed in summer and skated in winter.
I anticipation about the bodies I knew as a kid: best of them Catholic, a few of them Jewish, about of all them what I afterwards abstruse to alarm “white ethnic” — Italian-Americans, Irish-Americans, German-Americans. Their grandparents had emigrated to Philadelphia; their fathers had started small, hands-on businesses like barge yards and agriculture companies; they had abounding college, the aboriginal in their family, and affiliated and confused out to Medford for the amplitude and the schools. About none of them were doctors or attorneys or financiers. Some were agents or amusing workers. Abounding started baby businesses of their own. They had a little added money than the boilerplate American, maybe, and hardly added education. But they were still blue-collar in spirit and appearance — Philly types, underdogs. Best of all — and I apperceive I’m overgeneralizing, but this is how I bethink the personality of the abode — they didn’t abide any BS.
On a whim, I took Route 206 to Pic-a-Lilli Inn, an old bank the bend of the Pine Barrens area my high-school bunch acclimated to go every Wednesday night for all-you-can-eat wings. It was 3 o’clock in the afternoon — the alpha of blessed hour. I ordered a “lager” and addled up a chat with the bartender, Carol. Her T-shirt apprehend “you can’t buy beatitude but you can buy wine and that’s affectionate of the aforementioned thing.” Talk bound angry to politics.
A ample pro-GOP backyard assurance declares Democrats “the affair of corruption” on a acreage alfresco Medford, NJ. (Photo: Andrew Romano/Yahoo News)
By that point I’d already articulate out a dozen or so bounded voters in diners at Kim contest — abounding of them the actual aforementioned independent-minded burghal women who pollsters assert will adjudge the election. Their angle ran the gamut. Susan Woodend of Medford Lakes — a Spanish abecedary who (small world) angry out to be pals with the mother of my high-school adherent — said that she was a registered Republican who’d hit a “tipping point” with the “misogynistic” Trump. Now she was animadversion doors for Kim, article she’d never done before.
On the added end of the spectrum was my aing adolescence friend, now a bounded health-care able with Republican leanings. Afterwards banquet she told me that while she considers Trump a clown, the Democratic Affair ultimately aloof wants to accession her taxes to pay for programs that “don’t work,” like aliment stamps. She already has so abundant on her bowl with assignment and kids, she sighed; affairs are she wouldn’t be aggravation to apprentice added about this year’s aldermanic candidates, or casting a ballot.
But Carol the bartender was the aboriginal aborigine I’d met who seemed to abduction the abode I’m from — “bumf***,” she alleged it — in all its no-bull complication and contradiction. As a “Friends” echo played on the TV abaft her, Carol explained that alike admitting she’s a registered Republican, and alike admitting she sometimes “feels bad for Trump, the way he gets s*** no bulk what he says,” she banned to vote for him in 2016. “The guy’s a bedlamite — an egomaniac,” she said. Now, two years later, the admiral had done annihilation to change her mind: “I appetite the Democrats to win in November, aloof as a bang in the teeth to Trump.”
Despite all that, Carol — who beneath to allotment her aftermost name — still wasn’t abiding whether was accommodating to abandoned bang any teeth by voting for Andy Kim. A journalism above in college, she’s now what a advance adviser would alarm a “high-information voter.” She consistently refreshes ABC News on her phone. She has able opinions about Christine Blasey Ford, the bookish who accused Brett Kavanaugh of ually assaulting her aback they were teenagers. (“Come on,” she scoffed. “A guy can’t alike attending at a babe anymore after accepting answerable with rape.”) And she was carefully acquainted with all of the NJ-03 advance ads.
As a result, Carol had apropos about both candidates. “Kim talks about account in a way that makes it complete like he’s article he’s not — like he absolutely served in the military,” she told me. “MacArthur wrote the bloom bill. That aloof kills him.” Neither applicant had absolutely anesthetized the South Jersey aroma ysis — not yet.
Before I left, I asked Carol if there was any adventitious she would artlessly break home on Nov. 6.
“Hell no,” she said. For her, the accommodation will appear bottomward whether she believes that Kim is who he says he is — a “kid from Marlton” who’s “different” than added Democrats. My faculty is she’s not alone.
A handmade assurance at Andy Kim’s advance address in Mount Laurel, NJ. (Photo: Andrew Romano/Yahoo News)
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