Kim and Richter make case for being the true voice of N.J.’s 3rd Congressional District

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Left to right: David Richter and U.S. Rep. Andy Kim are vying for the U.S House of Representatives seat for New Jersey’s 3rd Congressional district. (campaign photos)

Left to right: David Richter and U.S. Rep. Andy Kim are vying for the U.S House of Representatives seat for New Jersey’s 3rd Congressional district. (campaign photos)

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U.S. Rep. Andy Kim interrupted a red streak in 2018 when he defeated incumbent Republican Tom MacArthur.

The first-term Democrat said since being elected he has tried to be responsive to his Burlington and Ocean County constituents in New Jersey’s 3rd Congressional District, an effort which has included hosting more than two dozen town halls.

“I have full transparency about what I’m working on every day [and] who I’m meeting with,” Kim said. “I have put everything I got into this to try to help support the people of this district, so I’m asking for their support again based off the work that I’ve done, off of the issues that I’ve focused on.”

While in Washington, Kim serves on the Armed Services and Small Business committees and the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis. He is listed on his congressional website as a member of 26 caucuses, including the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

New Jersey 3rd Congressional candidate Andy Kim speaks to supporters at the Westin in Mount Laurel in November 2018
Then New Jersey 3rd Congressional candidate Andy Kim speaks to supporters at the Westin in Mount Laurel in November 2018. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Kim’s Republican challenger, David Richter, has made that last one a campaign issue.

He argues that Kim ran as a moderate voice for the district and that “he has been anything but for the past two years.” Richter adds that the Congressional Progressive Caucus is “not a moderate group by any means.”

“It’s a group co-founded by [Vt. U.S. Sen.] Bernie Sanders [and] includes [N.Y. U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez] and [Minn. U.S. Rep.] Ilhan Omar and the rest of the squad and it’s an extremely radical group there,” he said. “No moderates in that group and certainly Andy Kim is no moderate.”

In addition to membership in the Progressive Caucus, Richter said Kim doesn’t vote like a moderate Democrat. He asserts that Kim’s voting record is more in line with Ocasio-Cortez and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi; a record that’s too liberal for the district.

Kim wants to know which of his votes fits that description. “Is it the vote that I took to lower prescription drug costs?” he asked, adding the bill “moved the needle” on health care by also providing everyone on Medicare vision, hearing and dental coverage. “That’s something that I was immensely proud of.”

Kim also touted his work to support veterans and Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, on the opioid crisis and campaign finance reform.

“That’s my voting record and I think it’s in line with this district,” he contends. “I think it’s my opponent that is out of line with this district and actually doesn’t understand what this district needs and deserves.”

Republican candidate for U.S. Congress in New Jersey's 3rd Congressional District David Richter
Republican candidate for U.S. Congress in New Jersey’s 3rd Congressional District David Richter. (Courtesy of the Richter campaign)

According to Richter, voters have told him “they were sold a bill of goods” that were false.

“The voters, I think, trusted what he said and a lot of them are scratching their heads now because he told them things that didn’t turn out to be true,” he said.

For Kim’s part, he says he’s focused on the issues and not on ideological labels.

“I’m a very pragmatic person, somebody that really tries to think about what can make for the strongest possible progress for our country,” said Kim. “[My opponent] keeps getting caught up in terms of labels … but that’s just not how the people in this district talk and that’s not how people here approach problems.”

On health care

Though Richter has made no bones about being a strong Trump supporter, he disagrees with the president on repealing the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

“I’m not in favor of repeal but I am in favor of reform,” he said. “There are all sorts of things that we can do.” Richter added that if the U.S. Supreme Court rules that the Affordable Care Act is unconstitutional, he would work with other members of Congress to fix the program so it would comply with the judge’s decision.

“I don’t think it’s fundamentally gone wrong, I just think that the private sector is the solution.”

Kim counters that the essence of Obamacare was covering more people and making health insurance more competitive. He says Richter is not approaching the issue seriously and that it’s not a matter of “tweaking.”

“We are literally talking about tens of millions of Americans losing their health care if the Supreme Court follows the direction that the Trump Administration is urging them to go,” he said. “So, he is then minimizing the crisis that we’re in.”

In addition to general health care, care for veterans is very important in the district. It is home to Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst as well as to more than 51,000 veterans; more than any other district in New Jersey.

Both Kim and Richter have expressed concerns about a VA health clinic proposed for Brick that the agency has delayed.

Richter, during a recent candidate forum, said Kim didn’t do enough to keep the proposal on track and that a letter sent to the VA “was not leadership.”

Kim counters that he has stayed on top of the proposed clinic since he began his term in office. “This was basically the first issue that I started working on,” he said. “We have engaged the VA about the issues related to Ocean County veteran health, including the new VA facility.”

An independent lean

Voters in the 3rd District — which spans parts of Burlington and Ocean counties — don’t appear to be attached to labels either.

According to figures released Oct. 1, there are 205,599 voters in the district not affiliated with any political party. Democrats are the second-biggest voting block with 183,496 followed by Republicans with 168,058 registered voters.

When broken down by county, there are more Democrats in Burlington County; unaffiliated voters lead registrations in Ocean County. Until Kim was elected, since 1993, there was only one two-year period when a Democrat represented the district. It’s been a solidly Republican district, but the demographics have made it more competitive.

Also challenging Kim is Martin Weber, a business owner and veteran from Barnegat, who is running as an independent. Robert Shapiro, a lawyer from Haddonfield, is also on the ballot. He ran for the congressional seat in 2012.

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