The Democratic incumbents in two of New Jersey’s closest congressional races were declared winners just after midnight Wednesday in an election that was conducted mostly by mail and that yielded a voter turnout likely to set records.
Representatives Andy Kim and Tom Malinowski, first-term Democrats who were elected two years ago as part of a so-called blue wave aligned against President Trump, beat back spirited challenges, according to preliminary results from The Associated Press.
The results of a marquee matchup between Amy Kennedy, a former schoolteacher and the wife of a scion of the storied Democratic political dynasty, and Jeff Van Drew, a party-switching Republican ally of Mr. Trump’s, were too close to call.
As of 6 p.m. Tuesday, more than 3.8 million mail ballots had been returned, representing 96 percent of New Jersey’s total turnout four years ago. The figure did not include ballots that had been delivered to polling places by hand or provisional paper ballots that were cast on Tuesday. Provisional ballots will not be counted until Nov. 11, and only after officials ensure that no one voted twice.
The time-consuming process of opening paper ballots and tallying votes was expected to stop for the day at most county election offices by about 11:30 p.m. on Tuesday, and then to resume early Wednesday.
In the days before the election, Saily Avelenda, the executive director of the New Jersey Democratic State Committee, said the organization was taking nothing for granted.
“This is it,” said Ms. Avelenda, a former bank lawyer whose life as an activist started after the 2016 election. “This is the Super Bowl. This is the moment I have been working for since the morning after the election when Hillary lost and I cried my eyes out.”
On Wednesday, she said that voters had seen through the “lies and the extremism of the Republican Party” to re-elect all 10 Democratic House incumbents.
“New Jersey Democrats turned out in droves and we made sure to protect our delegation — first and foremost,” Ms. Avelenda said.
U.S. Senator Cory Booker, a Democrat, was re-elected in his race against the Republican candidate, Rik Mehta, a biotech entrepreneur who fell short in his long-shot bid to unseat the former Newark mayor.
Mr. Booker, in comments delivered on Zoom with his girlfriend, the actress Rosario Dawson, standing behind him, invoked the Women’s March in Washington four years ago as the symbolic start of the campaign that culminated on Tuesday.
“This is a state that never, ever gave up or gave in, or even sat down to watch what was happening with Trump,” Mr. Booker said. “We were activists. We were organized. We were fighting.”
Just before 10 p.m., Representative Mikie Sherrill, a first-term Democrat and former Navy helicopter pilot, was declared the winner against her Republican challenger, Rosemary Becchi, a tax lawyer, according to The Associated Press.
By early Wednesday, The A.P. had called the races for all 10 of New Jersey’s Democratic House incumbents.
Mr. Van Drew, a retired dentist who was elected as a Democrat in 2018, was a vocal opponent of the president’s impeachment. In December, he joined Republicans in a pledge of “undying support” to Mr. Trump after it became clear that he could not count on re-election support from Democratic leaders in his South Jersey district.
He had political payback written on his back, and an opponent with a celebrity surname in a conservative-leaning district that stretches from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pennsylvania border.
In an 11:30 p.m. address to supporters, Mr. Van Drew, who was ahead by less than 4 percentage points with 74 percent of the estimated total vote counted, stopped just short of claiming victory.
“A lot of money and a lot of power was used against me, quite frankly, to remove me from my seat during a difficult year,” he said.
“But the truth is, we believed,” he added. “We believed in the America that we know, the America that we love, the America that we know is this great place.”
Ms. Kennedy’s campaign manager, Josh Roesch, said it was too early for Mr. Van Drew to suggest that he had won.
“Tens of thousands of votes need to be counted over the next few weeks and we will work hard to make sure every vote is counted and every voice is heard,” he said in a statement.
The race in the Seventh Congressional District, in northern New Jersey, pitted Mr. Malinowski against State Senator Tom Kean Jr., a fiscal moderate whose father was a beloved Republican governor of New Jersey. The contest was seen as a measure of moderate Republicans’ ability to compete in a party overhauled in Mr. Trump’s image.
During the campaign, Mr. Malinowski was targeted by QAnon supporters who sent him death threats after the House Republicans’ campaign arm falsely accused him of lobbying to protect sexual predators. The harassment began after Mr. Malinowski led a bipartisan resolution condemning the movement, which spreads a baseless conspiracy theory that Mr. Trump is battling a cabal of Democratic pedophiles.
Ms. Kennedy, a first-time candidate who is married to Patrick J. Kennedy, a nephew of the former president, signaled interest in competing for Mr. Van Drew’s seat two days after word began to spread that the freshman congressman intended to join the Republicans, a move that prompted a mass exodus of his staff members.
Here’s a guide to The Times’s election night coverage, no matter when, how or how often you want to consume it.
- If you just want results… There will be a results map on The Times’s home page, and yes, the infamous needle will be back — but only for Florida, Georgia and North Carolina, the only states providing granular enough information for our experts to make educated projections of uncounted votes.
- If you want constant updates… Times reporters are live-blogging all day and night. This will be your one-stop shop for minute-by-minute updates: race calls, on-the-ground reporting from swing states, news about any voting issues or disruptions, and more.
- If you want to check in every so often… Times journalists are also producing a live briefing from roughly 5 p.m. to 3 a.m. ET, with an overview of what’s happening in the presidential race, the Senate and House races, and the voting process itself.
Her entry into the race upended the playing field and ushered in a bruising primary against two formidable challengers: Will Cunningham, a lawyer and former investigator for the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, and Brigid Callahan Harrison, a college professor who was the choice of the South Jersey Democratic political machine.
Ms. Kennedy cruised to an easy victory, buoyed by the star power of her surname and the support of progressive groups that were eager to notch a win against the county power brokers who had long determined the outcome of regional races.
Ms. Kennedy, the education director for a mental health advocacy forum founded by her husband, has tried to play down her famous name, while saying that she is “grateful for the support of our family.” The Kennedy connections no doubt helped her generate $4.25 million in contributions, compared with the $3.9 million that Mr. Van Drew raised.
Mr. Trump was never far from mind in the Second Congressional District, which he won by about five percentage points in 2016.
About two hours south of New York City and in the Philadelphia media market, the region was saturated by presidential campaign ads from both sides.
Soon after Mr. Van Drew switched parties, the president came to Wildwood, N.J., for a raucous, campaign-style rally that aimed to solidify the lifelong Democrat’s standing in the eyes of the Republican faithful.
As Mr. Van Drew basked in Mr. Trump’s glow, David Richter, a wealthy Republican businessman who had planned to run against Mr. Van Drew before he switched parties, chose to run in a neighboring district instead, clearing the path for Mr. Van Drew.
Mr. Richter’s race against Mr. Kim was considered one of the most competitive in New Jersey, and one of the best chances for Republicans to regain more of a toehold in Congress.
Before Mr. Van Drew switched parties, only one Republican represented New Jersey in Congress: Chris Smith, who was re-elected to a 21st term on Tuesday.
Mr. Van Drew rose in politics from mayor of Dennis, N.J., to county legislator to state lawmaker, serving in the Assembly and Senate for 16 years before being elected to Congress.
There was nothing typical about the election, which was held during a pandemic that has killed more than 16,000 New Jersey residents and against a backdrop of an alarming statewide uptick in coronavirus cases.
Social distancing restrictions affected the candidates’ ability to campaign freely and raise money, and mail voting altered the get-out-the-vote strategy altogether in a state where residents began casting paper ballots in September.
On Monday, Ms. Kennedy was forced to suspend in-person campaigning after being exposed to a person who later tested positive for the virus at an outdoor weekend event.
Ms. Kennedy, in a statement, said she was proud of the race she had run.
“We stood up and spoke out instead of sitting back in silence,” she said. “We stayed true to our values and we ran a campaign focused on service and putting forth real plans and solutions that will make a better South Jersey for everyone.”