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With political pundits predicting that Democratic incumbent U.S. Rep. Tom Malinowski is facing a rough fight for reelection because New Jersey’s 7th District was redrawn to favor the GOP, the primary field to choose a challenger is growing.
District 23 Assemblyman Erik Peterson, a former Hunterdon County freeholder, declared his candidacy for the Republican nomination in a YouTube video released this week.
Peterson, a Franklin resident, will be taking on Tom Kean Jr., the early heavy favorite, who has the backing of old-line Republicans in the district's party organizations.
The Republican field also includes Phil Rizzo, who unsuccessfully ran for the GOP nomination for governor in 2021; Fredon Township Mayor John Flora, businessman John Isemann and a handful of other candidates.
They believe Malinowski, an East Amwell resident who has served two terms in the House of Representatives after defeating incumbent Leonard Lance in 2018 and Kean in 2020 by 5,000 votes, is vulnerable because more Republican communities have been pushed into the district and Democrat-leaning communities moved to districts held by other Democratic incumbents.
The Republican primary has become microcosm of the nationwide contest within the Republican Party between traditional Reagan-Bush conservatives and a rising breed of Trump Republicans. That brand of GOP thought plays well in the Hunterdon, Warren and Sussex counties parts of the district, which stretches from Linden in the southeast to the Delaware Water Gap.
In his announcement, Peterson, who called himself an "America first Republican," emphasized his allegiance to the GOP.
"I will always vote like a Republican should vote," he said, adding that he has been an "unwavering" Republican voice in the Assembly.
He boasted of his A ratings from the National Right to Life Committee and the National Rifle Association.
"I believe in the sanctity of the body and that every person has the right to say no to the government wanting to inject a vaccine or some other substance in their body," he said.
Earlier this month, Malinowski declared his candidacy for reelection by tweeting a line from Shakespeare's "Henry V" – “Once more unto the breach, dear friends.”
Kean, a Westfield resident who left the state Senate where he served as minority leader, declared his candidacy in July.
Like all Central Jersey, the 7th District has become more diverse in recent years with an influx of foreign-born residents. It is also one of the wealthiest congressional districts in the United States
The district traditionally has been the heartland of New Jersey's moderate Republicans. Kean's father, the former governor who served two terms in the 1980s, lives in Bedminster, and Christine Todd Whitman, who served two terms as governor in the 1990s, grew up in Somerset County and lives in Hunterdon County.
But moderate Republicans like Whitman were not happy with the rightward tilt of their party during the administration of Trump, who has a golf club is in the district. Whitman even endorsed Biden in a speech at the last Democratic National Convention.
Mike Deak is a reporter for mycentraljersey.com. To get unlimited access to his articles on Somerset and Hunterdon counties, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.
This article originally appeared on MyCentralJersey.com: NJ Republican field crowding to challenge Rep. Tom Malinowski