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Any Kim Navigates Impeachment Debate in Divided District

U.S. Rep. Andy Kim addresses a town hall meeting in Berkeley Township, Feb. 2019. (Photo: Daniel Nee)

U.S. Rep. Andy Kim addresses a town hall meeting in Berkeley Township, Feb. 2019. (Photo: Daniel Nee)

In many ways, New Jersey’s third congressional district, split between Burlington and Ocean counties, mirrors America as a whole. Its western half, which includes a number of wealthy Philadelphia suburbs, is solidly Democratic. The eastern half, a seashore tourism mecca and home to more white, blue collar workers, is the GOP capital of the state, which solidified its political might by providing the votes needed in 2009 to send a Republican governor to Trenton.

It is the Ocean County portion of the district where residents began seeing a flood of political advertisements attacking freshman U.S. Rep. Andy Kim, a Democrat, on social media. The ads, purchased by the Republican Congressional Committee, take aim at Kim for his support of an inquiry to consider articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump. In Ocean County, Trump won a staggering 64 percent of the vote in 2016 presidential election compared to Hillary Clinton’s 31 percent. In Burlington County, the numbers are reversed: Trump won just 39 percent of the vote while Clinton took 54 percent.

Kim has the unenviable task of having to run for re-election in 2020, when two immensely polarized groups will head to the polls to choose a new president – and whether to send Kim back to Washington for another two years. In a prelude of what’s to come, Kim’s office swatted back at the GOP advertising blitz on Wednesday.

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“Congressman Kim has delivered on his promise to be among the most accessible and transparent members of Congress and find bipartisan solutions for the people of New Jersey,” said Kim spokesman Anthony DeAngelo. “These attacks from the RNC are a desperate ploy to distract from the congressman’s work and record. The people of Burlington and Ocean Counties are smarter than that, and they’ll see right through it.”

Kim has tried, since being elected, to stay above the political rancor in Washington. He’s focused town hall meetings – in both sides of the district – on meat-and-potatoes issues for constituents: health care for seniors, improving veterans services and luring a new VA clinic to Ocean County, and managing the decommissioning of the Oyster Creek Generating Station. He’s also been active in preserving the role of Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, which spans both counties. The U.S. Air Force has now decided to base the new Boeing KC-46 tanker there.

But in Ocean County is where the waters may turn murky. Kim is just the second Democrat in a century to represent the district, which includes the bulk of the county’s 33 municipalities. With support for Trump still strong – nearly half of the boats at local marinas fly Trump 2020 flags – the controversial nature of impeachment could pose a threat if conservatives turn up in large numbers next year.

Kim told Shorebeat Wednesday night that his decision to support an inquiry into impeachment proceedings is genuine, and not partisan.

“Regardless of your party, there are basic things we can agree on as Americans: we need to put country before our own political interests, and our public servants must uphold the constitution,” he said.

He likened his decision to support the inquiry to a question of democratic values – the same, he said, that many Ocean County residents hold dear.

“I see these common values throughout Ocean County, and it’s why I’ve made the decision to support this inquiry,” he said. “Those same common values also drive me to fight for a new veterans health care facility and to ensure the Oyster Creek facility is decommissioned with our community’s best interests in mind.”

The GOP’s candidate for next year’s race is still eight months away from being chosen. And the party has new leadership, with Frank B. Holman III, principal of a public accounting firm, taking the reigns from kingmaker George Gilmore, who is awaiting sentencing on charges of tax evasion. While some Republican sources have reported a state of disarray, others see opportunity. One prominent Republican, who did not wish to be identified publicly, said the new leadership could pave the way for a well-known local candidate to run for office.

A lack of county residency, except for a summer home in Long Beach Island, was often the Achilles’ heel for former GOP Rep. Tom MacArthur. In the previous two contested races, candidates came from the Philadelphia suburbs rather than the actual Republican base of the district in Ocean County. One candidate, former NFL star Jon Runyan, successfully served two terms before retiring, but the race in 2008 was a bust, with little-known candidate Chris Meyers falling 13,000 votes behind the late Democrat John Adler. Meyers, who was from Medford, received weak support from the Ocean County portion of the district.

Kim has said he wrestled with the decision to support the inquiry and it “did not come easily.” He said he takes his oath of office seriously, and does not believe partisanship should be a factor when it comes to the Commander-in-Chief.

“I will always put those values, and the people I’m proud to serve, above all else,” he said.

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