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New Jersey is one of the most important states for Democrats’ House takeover effort

Three of the most competitive House races in the country are in New Jersey.

Andrew Prokop is a senior politics correspondent at Vox, covering the White House, elections, and political scandals and investigations. He’s worked at Vox since the site’s launch in 2014, and before that, he worked as a research assistant at the New Yorker’s Washington, DC, bureau.

New Jersey, which held its primary elections on Tuesday, is a key battleground in Democrats’ fight to retake the House of Representatives this fall.

President Trump is, of course, very unpopular in the blue, suburb-filled state. Beyond that, the GOP tax bill, the marquee legislative accomplishment of the current Congress, is unusually bad for New Jersey — a higher percentage of residents will see their taxes increase than in any other state, according to a Tax Policy Center report.

Then there’s the map. There are currently five Republicans in New Jersey’s congressional delegation, and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee says they’re targeting all five of those seats. Of those, three races are ranked by the Cook Political Report as among Democrats’ top targets in the whole country. And two Republican incumbents who’ve served for decades have decided to retire rather than run again and face a tough race.

Overall, Democrats need to win, on net, 23 seats to retake the House. New Jersey comes right after California and Pennsylvania among the states where Democrats appear to have the most and best opportunities to flip districts from red to blue. The better the party does in the Garden State, the better their chances of a House takeover will be. Here are the races to watch.

These three races are among Democrats’ top House targets in the country

New Jersey’s Second District: The Second is the southernmost district in New Jersey and encompasses Atlantic City. Barack Obama won the working-class district by a fairly comfortable 8-point margin in 2012, but it swung toward Donald Trump in 2016 — he beat Hillary Clinton there by 4.6 percentage points.

For 24 years, the area has been represented in Congress by moderate Republican Frank LoBiondo, who’s beaten back his Democratic challengers fairly easily. But late last year, LoBiondo decided to retire and put this district up for grabs.

The Democratic Party got their preferred nominee here in Jeff Van Drew, who’s represented part of this district in the state Senate for more than a decade. The Republican field, meanwhile, was generally viewed as weak, and the eventual winner, Seth Grossman, had hardly raised any money by the last filing deadline. So Van Drew starts the general election campaign as a sizable favorite here.

New Jersey’s 11th District: A wealthy suburban district in the north of the state, the 11th District is in some ways the flip side of the more working-class Second. Its residents have long voted for Republicans (Obama lost there twice) but moved more toward Democrats in the 2016 presidential contest — Trump won it by just 0.9 percentage points.

The area also has been represented by the same member of Congress for 24 years — Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, whose family has been in state politics since the Revolutionary War. Frelinghuysen rose to become chair of the House Appropriations Committee last year but is out of place in the increasingly conservative GOP. Facing his first tough reelection fight ever, he announced his retirement in January.

That tough fight was brought by former Navy pilot and prosecutor Mikie Sherrill, who’s proven a fundraising phenomenon — the $2.8 million she’s brought in puts her among the top House race fundraisers in the country. Sherrill won, and she’ll square off against Republican Assembly member Jay Webber this fall.

New Jersey’s Seventh District: The Seventh is another northern suburban swing district — one that’s slightly more Democratic than those above. In fact, it’s the only GOP-held district in the state that Hillary Clinton won in 2016, though she did so by just about 1 percentage point.

Running for reelection is Rep. Leonard Lance (R), who was first elected to Congress in 2008 and has regularly beaten his Democratic challengers by double digits. After a few somewhat hapless attempts to defend the House GOP’s Obamacare repeal attempt, Lance ended up voting against both the health bill and the tax bill.

Still, he’s facing a potentially strong Democratic challenger in Tom Malinowski, who served as assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights, and labor in the Obama administration, and is competitive with Lance in fundraising.

There are two more Republican incumbents in the Garden State

New Jersey’s Third Congressional District: This South Jersey district went to Obama in 2008 and 2012 but then swung toward Trump, who won it by about 6 percentage points.

Since 2015, it’s been represented by Tom MacArthur. Last year, MacArthur was instrumental in reviving the prospects of the GOP’s Obamacare repeal bill, striking a deal that helped it pass out of the House. That may not have helped him politically — MacArthur was soon driven to step down as co-chair of the House GOP’s moderate Tuesday Group because its members were unhappy with his deal, and the deeply unpopular bill ended up failing in the Senate anyway.

The Democratic nominee, who was unopposed in the primary, is Andy Kim. Kim hasn’t run for office before, but he was a National Security Council staffer in the Obama administration who’s worked in Afghanistan and has raised more than $1.3 million. He’ll need it — MacArthur has put millions of his own money into his past campaigns.

New Jersey’s Fourth Congressional District: The Fourth, in the center of the state, is the most Republican-leaning district in New Jersey — Trump won it by 15 points. And it’s represented by Chris Smith, who’s kept winning reelection since he joined Congress in 1981 and hopes to win a 20th term this fall.

So it’s definitely a stretch for Democrats; still, in a year when the party is hoping for a wave, they don’t want to leave any race uncontested. Navy veteran Josh Welle will be the Democratic nominee.

Democrats also have to defend one seat in a swing district

New Jersey’s Fifth Congressional District: Finally, there’s one more potentially competitive New Jersey congressional race this fall — in the Fifth, a district at the very north of the state that Trump won by about 1 percentage point.

This district was one of Democrats’ rare 2016 House pickups, as lawyer Josh Gottheimer defeated the deeply conservative, longtime incumbent Scott Garrett by a little over 4 percentage points.

With an eye on reelection, Gottheimer has racked up a relatively moderate voting record. Still, Republicans hope they can take back the seat, and longtime conservative activist and former Mayor Steve Lonegan faced off against former Council member John McCann in a GOP primary that, at press time, hadn’t yet been called. In a year looking tough for Republican candidates, though, the Cook Political Report currently rates the race as a likely Democratic hold.

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