U.S. House race in N.J. draws national attention

- Rep. Leonard Lance, R-N.J., is keeping an arm's length from President Donald Trump as he gears up for what is expected to be a tough re-election race.

Is he a "Trump Republican"?

"No. I'm an Eisenhower Republican," he said.

Lance also indicated he would not like President Trump to campaign for him in the general election.

"I've always campaigned on my own," he said.  

The New Jersey Republican is running for a sixth term representing the Garden State's 7th Congressional District. His race is likely to get national attention as Lance is one of just a handful of GOP members of Congress running for re-election in a district won by Hillary Clinton in 2016. 

The Cook Political Report ranks his race as a toss-up.

"This is a moderately conservative district," Lance told Fox 5 News last week. "Secretary Clinton carried it by 3,800 votes and I was honored to carry it by 38,000 votes. I am confident that my views are the views of the overwhelming majority of residents in this district."

But the 2018 midterms are just as much about the men and women on the ballot as they are about the man who isn't. 

President Trump looms large over this election cycle and has repeatedly argued that he needs more Republicans elected to Congress in order to move his agenda forward. 

"I view Congress as a separate and coequal branch of government. There are areas where I agree with the president and areas where I disagree with the president," Lance said. "And that was true with President Obama as well."

The congressman has held 47 in-person town hall meetings throughout his time in office and points to his votes against two of President Trump's signature legislative efforts, health care and tax reform, as proof of his independence. 

But Democrats running to oppose him disagree. 

"He's been in the Congress for a long time," Tom Malinowski said. "He has not delivered anything for New Jersey."

Malinowski is one of three Democrats vying to take on Lance come November. A former assistant secretary of state under President Obama, Malinowski has received the support of all six Democratic county organizations in the 7th District. 

His campaign calls him the Democratic party frontrunner, ahead of 2016's Democratic nominee Peter Jacob and attorney and activist Goutam Jois. Malinowski has raised substantially more money than his Democratic opponents and his fundraising in right on pace with Lance's. 

"I'm someone who's able to hit the ground running if I'm elected in November. This is a critical time for our country," Malinowski told Fox 5 News. "We're facing two more years of the Mad King in the White House tweeting away something different every single day and I don't think we have the time for a new congressman with a long learning curve."

"Opposing us are well-financed establishment interests whose sole objective is to flip the House and control Congress," Jacob told Fox 5 News in a statement. "But our battle isn't just about defeating the Republicans, it's about winning power back to the people and restoring our democracy."

And Jois highlighted his campaign's grassroots action.

"We're the only campaign, Democratic or Republican, that's taking action, rather than just talking about it," Jois said in a statement. "Change doesn't come from Washington insiders or from what's tried and failed in the past; it comes from a new generation of progressive leaders who have the courage to stand up for their values."

Still, Malinowski argued that Lance's recent move towards the political middle is one of political expediency and that his vote against Republican efforts to repeal Obamacare came after years of voting for repeal under President Obama. 

"My observation is that the Democratic candidates in this district are moving to the far left and I do not think that's the viewpoint of the majority of residents," Lance said. "I think it's important to have someone serving in this district, someone who knows the district and lives here."

What does Malinowski think about Lance's argument that he knows the 7th District like the back of his hand?

"He has lived his whole life here. His father lived his whole life here. His grandfather has lived his whole life here," Malinowski said. "And he votes like he's from Mars."

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