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In this edition: A primary feud in New Jersey, fantasy polling about Trump and Biden, and New York’s͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌ 
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February 16, 2024


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David Weigel

How Andy Kim turned New Jersey’s Senate race into a real fight

Semafor/David Weigel


WEST ORANGE, N.J. – A few weeks after he entered the race for U.S. Senate, New Jersey Rep. Andy Kim stood in his umpteenth living room house party and gave his umpteenth stump speech.

Few in the north Jersey crowd had met the south Jersey Democrat before. Many had been involved in the party’s post-2017 suburban surge, when swing seat Republicans faced weekly protests from new “resistance” groups like Indivisible and NJ 11 for Change. A memento from that year hung on a nearby Christmas tree: A sparkly ornament, reading “many snowflakes create a storm.” Democrats had done the impossible then, said Kim, and winning the primary to replace Sen. Bob Menendez should be easier.

“There was a journalist who asked me: What’s it like to be the underdog in a Senate race?” Kim told the room. “I’m like: I’m 23 points up in the polls! In what other state is someone who’s 23 points up considered to be the underdog?”

Nowhere else, he said. Kim, the first Democrat to announce his candidacy after Menendez’s Oct. 13 indictment, faces no real competition from the senator, who polls in the low single digits and has until March 25 to decide whether he’ll run again. The June 5 primary is really between Kim and New Jersey First Lady Tammy Murphy, who has never sought office on her own before, but started the race with a bucket of endorsements and a loaded rolodex.


The early consensus on this race was that Murphy would lock it up. In the first fundraising quarter, she outraised Kim $3.2 million to $2.8 million, despite entering the race six weeks after him. She also quickly nabbed the support of nine of the state’s 21 county Democratic party chairs. That was invaluable, thanks to a peculiar New Jersey institution known as “the line” — in many of the state’s key counties, candidates endorsed by the party are listed on one ballot line, while unendorsed candidates are shunted off to the side.

Academic studies have found that the line gives parties’ preferred candidates a double-digit advantage. Therefore, if polling showed Kim up by a low-double digit margin, as this month’s Fairleigh-Dickinson survey did, the margin would be erased.

That conventional wisdom has begun to erode, however, with race now looking increasingly up for grabs as Murphy and Kim prepare for their first debate Sunday.

Few policy differences separate the two contenders, so Kim has drawn another contrast: An insurgent campaign against a machine. He’s joined less well-known candidates in urging most counties to abandon the ballot line system and he’s highlighted reporting on how Murphy’s team, in vain, pressured state College Democrats not to endorse him. (“This is why people lose faith in democracy and our system,” he posted on X, linking a New York Times story about the quiet pro-Murphy lobbying.)

“I’ll be honest with you — my stock amongst independents and even Republicans in the state is through the roof,” Kim said at another house party, in Montclair. “Never again will the Republicans ever be able to say I’m just some ‘yes man’ for my party, when I’m literally running against the senior senator and the governor’s wife.”

That difference has won Kim some national Democratic support. In early January, Pennsylvania Sen. John Fetterman told Semafor he was endorsing the congressman because Murphy was a “nepo candidate.”

The contrast was also an asset for Kim last weekend when he beat Murphy handily at the Monmouth County Democratic convention, the first “open” process with a delegate vote. Kim represented about a third of the county in Congress, but Murphy came into the event with high-profile local endorsements, and the result was covered like an upset.

“I don’t think we need any more dynasties,” said Alyssa Casazza, who came to one of the Kim house parties to meet the Murphy alternative. She did not, she said, “know a heck of a lot about him.” But he was not married to the governor.


Kim, a former diplomat who flipped a swing seat in 2018, gained national attention when he cleaned up trash in the Capitol after Jan. 6; Jack Gavin, who came to meet Kim in West Orange, called the moment “clean-up on aisle democracy.” His agenda largely overlaps with Murphy’s, who summed up her own plans this way to a local news station last month: “I want to work on abortion, I want to work on affordability, I want to work on gun safety, I want to work on climate change; and ultimately, I want to help defend our democracy.”

Still, Murphy’s campaign is looking to exploit what policy daylight does exist between the two candidates. Earlier this week, it went after Kim for voting with Republicans on two immigration-related amendments – one on a border wall, one on non-citizens getting COVID benefits – designed to jam Democrats.

“It’s not the only time that Andy Kim chose to vote with Trump Republicans on immigration matters and other important issues,” Rep. Albio Sires, a Murphy endorser, said in a statement. In an interview, Kim said his opponent was “grasping at straws” to attack “a son of immigrants, married to an immigrant who has voted to give a pathway to DACA recipients and Dreamers.”

Kim also argues that Murphy, who picked up the support of EMILYs List this week, simply hasn’t proven herself as a Democrat. The first lady got credit from Democrats for her focus on reducing infant mortality in New Jersey, a cause that took her across the state. But she has been answering questions about many issues for the first time. When those answers got crosswise with the college-educated liberals who have disproportionate sway in party primaries — telling New York magazine that she didn’t have a position on the Senate filibuster, then coming out against it, for instance — it helped Kim.

“I’m not really sure what her positions are,” Kim told Semafor. “I have five years of a voting record, showing what it is that I believe in — including some tough votes in a district Donlad Trump won twice. The only voting record we have for the First Lady is that she said she was a registered Republican until 2014. I don’t know what her beliefs are on different issues. I think she has to answer those questions to the people of New Jersey.”

Murphy’s response, from spokeswoman Alex Altman, was that “Tammy is the progressive candidate in this race, and the only candidate with the strength, resolve, and experience to stand up to extremist Republicans and push for key Democratic values in DC.”

One X-factor in the race is that the battle for ballot lines is even more complicated than it sounds. Murphy does have the line locked up in some of the counties that produce the largest number of votes in Democratic primaries. The county chairs in Hudson and Essex have already endorsed her, securing the line in populous, racially diverse communities just outside New York City.

But in other counties, the chairs don’t have that power. In Trenton’s Mercer County, any candidate who gets 40% at the upcoming convention shares the line. Bergen County, which might make up one-tenth of the total primary vote, endorses via secret ballot. Salem County casts just a few thousand votes in competitive primaries, but it doesn’t have a line at all.

Fifteen weeks out from the primary, Murphy runs stronger with non-white voters than Kim; Kim runs stronger with white liberals. And he has taken every opportunity to portray himself as the underdog, turning every Murphy endorsement into a question about her tactics and the Trenton machine.

Murphy has tried to attack Kim over his high-profile supporters as well, with mixed results. After ex-Rep. Tom Malinowski came out for Kim, Murphy hit Malinowski over his violations of the STOCK Act, which regulates congressional stock trading, noting that Kim “did not call on Congress to ban trading stocks until after former Congressman Tom Malinowski was investigated by the House Ethics Committee.” That was a sore point for local Democrats who watched the congressman narrowly lose in 2022, and will weigh in on the fight for a ballot line.

“She’s behind in the polls,” Malinowski told NJ Spotlight News. “She desperately needs the support of the very people she insulted by going after me in such a personal way.”


  • In New York Magazine, Simon van Zuylen-Wood followed Murphy and Kim on the trail, and saw how the battle for the line was affecting the race: “Local press coverage of Tammy Murphy’s candidacy has been jaundiced, and Democrats across the state have been moaning about her undeserved advantages.”
  • In Politico, Matt Friedman saw Murphy “facing resistance, verging on hostility, from the rank and file of her party,” after what had been an immaculate campaign launch last year.
State of Play

New York. Democrats flipped the 3rd Congressional District in Queens and Nassau counties on Tuesday, sending ex-Rep. Tom Suozzi back to Congress. Turnout fell well below the 2022 midterms, when George Santos won the suburban seat for Republicans — roughly 100,000 voters who showed up for that race skipped this one. But it was well above turnout in the state’s most recent House specials in Aug. 2022, when Democrats retained a seat in the Hudson Valley and narrowly lost a safe GOP district in western New York.

Democrats credited the win to a superior ground game, from Suozzi’s own seasoned team to the Battleground New York coalition of labor groups to a successful, early effort to win over Asian voters who’d trended toward the GOP since 2020. Republicans blew it off as a fluke. “There are a lot of factors that is in no way a bellwether of what’s going to happen this fall,” House Speaker Mike Johnson said Wednesday, citing a snowstorm that slowed turnout on Tuesday morning and higher spending by Democrats — though the Congressional Leadership Fund, the House GOP’s super PAC, invested millions in the race, including payments for slow plows to clear roads around Republican precincts. On Thursday, the state’s bipartisan redistricting commission approved a new map for 2024 that made few changes to the one put in place after a successful GOP lawsuit in 2022; Democrats in Albany are expected to change it for greater benefit to their candidates.

Wisconsin. The GOP-led legislature passed maps put forward by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, ending a 13-year Republican advantage in the evenly divided state. “The legislature will be up for grabs,” Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said on Tuesday. In 2022, Evers won a second term by a 3-point margin, but carried just 38 of the Assembly’s 99 districts — a function of how the old maps created uncompetitive seats for Democrats around Madison and Milwaukee, while drawing exurban and rural seats that were impossible for Evers’ party to win.


Nikki for President, “More Chaos.” Trump has given Nikki Haley a lot to run on in South Carolina, but none of it is budging the polls. In earned media, she spent days attacking his recent jab at her husband, Michael (Trump suggested that his disappearance from the trail was a mystery; in fact he was on a National Guard deployment). In paid media, she’s hitting other targets, like his promise of tariffs in a second term (a “10% tax increase”) and support for “a Russian victory that will bring more war.”

Dade Phelan Campaign, “Oath.” The speaker of the Texas House of Representatives has been censured by his party, and his opponent is endorsed by Trump. The reason: Phelan supported the impeachment of Attorney Gen. Ken Paxton, who wasn’t convicted by the Republican-majority Senate. Phelan’s latest ad is 30 seconds of him explaining the situation, repeating the allegations against Paxton (“an affair with a Senate staffer,” “traded legal favors to cover up his adultery”) and says Trump is only involved because the attorney general is vengeful. “If Paxton will break an oath to his wife and God, why would he tell Trump or you the truth?”

Fairshake, “Fools.” Big players in the cryptocurrency industry have seeded this new PAC with $80 million, and its first target is California Rep. Katie Porter. It takes aim at her reputation, including her promise to take no corporate PAC money, by attacking the cash she got from individuals in “big pharma,” “big oil,” and “big bank[s].” None of those donations actually contradict her PAC pledge, and Porter’s campaign has already cited the existence of the ad in its fundraising emails as proof that “corporate special interests and greedy billionaires” want to buy the election.


One candidate has campaigned across South Carolina since the New Hampshire primary, holding multiple daily stops and running tough TV ads. One candidate has held a rally once a week. None of this has moved the polls. Three out of four self-identified Republicans back Trump, and non-Republicans, who can vote in this primary if they skipped this month’s Democratic primary, are split 43-42 in favor of Trump. The shrinking field hasn’t helped Haley much, either. Thirty-eight percent of voters who backed a candidate who has quit the race support her now, while 25% have moved to Trump.

Why is there still so much parlor-game speculation about Democrats swapping out their nominee? Because there’s no precedent for an election between an 81-year-old president and a 77-year-old ex-president facing multiple indictments. Fifty-eight percent of voters say Trump should be replaced on the ballot if he’s “convicted of a crime,” but a good share of those voters don’t think it’ll happen. Half of all voters, including some Democrats, think that age will somehow force President Joe Biden off the ticket.

This is the second state poll conducted for Fox News to find a significant difference in protest-voting if Republicans don’t nominate Trump. As in Georgia, where these two ballots were tested last month, Biden under-performs his 2020 numbers because of declining support from independents and unhappiness with his handling of foreign policy and the economy. Given the Trump-Biden option, most independents go for Trump; if Trump’s replaced with Haley, a plurality of independents choose Kennedy, along with a third of people who backed Trump in 2020.

On the Trail
REUTERS/Reba Saldanha

White House. West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin won’t run for president in 2024, announcing at an event in his home state that he would “not be seeking a third-party run” or any White House bid at all.

Manchin’s move, following Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan’s decision to run for U.S. Senate, leaves No Labels without any of the high-profile names it had floated as potential candidates on a unity ticket. It also comes after a busy speaking tour for Manchin, who was floating a potential run as late as Thursday, when he suggested that Utah Sen. Mitt Romney would be a solid running mate. (Romney instantly rejected the idea.)

Senate. Montana Rep. Matt Rosendale ended his Senate bid after just one week, citing the impossibility of beating ex-Navy SEAL Tim Sheehy in the Republican primary. “The day I announced, President Trump then announced that he was endorsing a different candidate,” he said in a statement. That move left Sheehy with no serious competition ahead of the June 5 primary; candidate filing closes on March 11.

REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz

Rep.-elect Tom Suozzi’s 8-point special election victory shrunk the House GOP majority, emboldened Democrats who were worried about messaging on immigration, and broke a losing streak for New York Democrats. Many of the gains it made in the Trump era were reversed in the Biden years — especially on Long Island, where the party was swept out of power and lost every House seat. But on Tuesday, Jay Jacobs, the chair of both the Nassau Democratic Party and the state party, was celebrating onstage with Suozzi. He talked with Americana about what happened, and this is an edited transcript of the conversation.

Americana: Why did Tom Suozzi win this race?

Jay Jacobs: Number one: We had the right candidate, and I think they had the wrong candidate. Secondarily, I think he was right on the issues, and if you don’t persuade your electorate, you could do everything else right, but it won’t make a difference. The third part was our organizing and the field, and that we prepared for the possibility of a blizzard.

I had said it publicly to our team, when the date of the special election was picked, “February 13 This is New York, and we could get a blizzard, so let’s prepare for that. Let’s get as many absentee ballots back as we possibly can.” That differentiated us from the Republicans, who were completely unprepared. We ended up having 81,000 votes in the bank, so to speak, right before Election Day, and there were only 90,000 votes on Election Day. That’s unprecedented.

Americana: What was your initial reaction to Mazi Pilip? Did you know who she was?

Jay Jacobs: I knew her, but I guess I hadn’t seen her in action. I didn’t know how she would come across. But immediately, I understood that this was probably a strategic move on the part of the Republicans, to underscore the importance of the October 7 terrorist attack in Israel. They probably felt that they could gain an advantage, winning over Jewish Democrats who would otherwise vote for Suozzi.

I don’t think it worked out. I think the debate performance — her presentation, in terms of how she addresses issues, her lack of knowledge of the issues — that all came together to demonstrate that she was not qualified to be a member of Congress.

Americana: Did it help that Suozzi had run against Gov. Kathy Hochul, in a very high-profile way, breaking with her on bail reform and taxes?

Jay Jacobs: In an odd sort of way, it helped him. It certainly laid out to the voters who he was well before the Republicans had any opportunity to paint him as something he wasn’t. Look, in my thinking, he was always the best and strongest candidate, and this was always about winning. Fortunately for him, the governor also felt this was only about winning. It’s no secret that it was a rough primary campaign that he waged against her, and I had disagreed with that. But the governor understands priorities. The priority was winning the seat.

Americana: Republicans ran hard on the migrant issue, putting news about migrant crime in their ads as soon as it happened. How’d that affect the race?

Jay Jacobs: It had us worried. When those migrant hooligans assaulted the two police officers in Times Square, it reminded me of the news story in 2022, when a person was shot in front of [then-Rep.] Lee Zeldin’s house, in the midst of his gubernatorial campaign. I said to myself: How the heck can this happen? How unlucky can we get, that this happens right in the middle of our campaign where that’s a sore point against us? How does that happen? It was, to me, very concerning, and I didn’t know what the impact would be on the electorate. But I don’t think people turned around and said: “Well, if it wasn’t for Tom Suozzi, they wouldn’t be here.”

Americana: How much had changed on the ground since 2022, when Zeldin was running his campaign against crime?

Jay Jacobs: When I was building my models as to what we needed to turn out, the big question was how unaffiliated voters would break. Our models showed that in 2022, when Santos won, Robert Zimmerman only got 46% of the unaffiliated, independent vote. I asked my team: Are people less angry or more angry this time, compared to the 2022 election? Unanimously, everybody said they were more angry back then.

I agreed with that. The bail situation has been solved. People weren’t happy about migrants, but don’t think they see them on their front lawn. And just because people aren’t happy about something doesn’t mean they’re gonna base their whole vote on it. It just means they’re unhappy. So we felt the Democratic share of those unaffiliated voters would go up, and it did. The Republicans made the mistake of fighting the last war.

Americana: On immigration, six years ago I was covering Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez making abolish ICE a huge component of her campaign. Obviously, Jackson Heights and Glen Cove are a little different. But what’s the conversation going to be among Democrats now? Is the less-enforcement argument just over?

Jay Jacobs: You have to balance the border security issue versus the humanitarian aspect. A mother, father, and their kids who make their way away from violence in El Salvador — a 1000-mile trek in terrible circumstances — you can only have compassion for them, if you’re a decent human being. But on the other side, you can’t possibly take the 8 billion people in the world who want to come here and pack them all into the United States.

Americana: Speaker Mike Johnson’s take on the race is that it was basically a fluke — Suozzi ran as a Republican on immigration, the weather factor. What’s your response to that?

Jay Jacobs: Look, political leaders are in control of an awful lot. But only God is in control of the weather. Their argument is that [on Tuesday], God was on our side? I’ll take that, for sure! But I think it’s pure nonsense to suggest that we would have had a different outcome. The snow falls on everybody. Johnson’s such a phony. That guy is awful.

  • eight days until the South Carolina Republican primary
  • 11 days until the Michigan primary
  • 18 days until Super Tuesday
  • 38 days until the start of Donald Trump’s trial in New York
  • 263 days until the 2024 presidential election