State Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean Jr., New Jersey’s highest-ranking Republican state lawmaker, announced Monday he will not seek re-election to the state Legislature this fall, two months after he narrowly lost an election for Congress.
The announcement immediately stirred speculation that Kean, the son of former Gov. Tom Kean, would try again to oust Rep. Tom Malinowski, D-7th Dist., in 2022. The 2020 race was so tight that both candidates began raising money for a possible recount before Kean conceded more than two weeks after Election Day.
Kean, R-Union, did not mention a possible House campaign in announcing that he wouldn’t seek re-election after two decades in the Legislature, and his campaign spokesman, Harrison Neely, did not respond to a request for comment.
As for his successor in Trenton, state Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick, R-Union, told NJ Advance Media Monday that he plans to run for Kean’s state Senate seat in November.
“I still believe there is a place for a moderate Republican,” said Bramnick, Kean’s longtime district mate, who announced last month that he would not run for governor this fall. “That’s one of the reasons I’m continuing to run.”
Kean polled more than 49% of the vote in his loss Malinowski, a first-termer who had ousted five-term Rep. Leonard Lance during 2018′s Democratic wave. Malinowski was the first Democrat to win the district since 1956.
In 2020, Kean was the only House Republican challenger able to amass a sizable war chest, taking in $3.9 million through Dec. 31, though was out-raised almost 2 to 1 by Malinowski, who brought in $7.5 million.
“Public service will always be a part of who I am and how I live my life, but after thoughtful discussion with my family, I have decided not to seek re-election for the State Senate in the 21st legislative district,” Kean said in a statement Monday.
“It has been an honor to serve these communities and I will always cherish the countless friendships and memories we have made together,” the 52-year-old Westfield resident said. “I am committed to continuing a bipartisan approach as a leader throughout the remainder of this term and will work every day to deliver solutions for my constituents.”
Kean was elected to the state Assembly in 2001 and moved up to the Senate in 2003. He has spent five terms in the upper house, representing the 21st legislative district, which includes parts of Morris, Somerset, and Union counties. Kean has served as the Senate Republican leader since 2008.
“New Jersey has no finer public servant than Tom Kean Jr., who has fought relentlessly for good government, bipartisan agreement, and policies that benefit every day New Jerseyans throughout his distinguished career,” state Republican Chairman Michael Lavery said. “We wish him the best in whatever comes next, and thank him for his service to our state.”
Praise for Kean was bipartisan. Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat, said the lawmakers “has ably carried on the legacy of service that runs deep in his family.”
“We wish Tom all the best as he transitions out of the Statehouse and to a new chapter,” Murphy added.
Skipping a re-election bid for the state Senate would give more time and energy to focus on a 2022 race against Malinowski.
If he does run for the House again, it would be Kean’s fourth attempt to head to Washington. Besides the race against Malinowski, he lost a 2000 race for the Republican nomination for the 7th district House seat and a 2006 bid to unseat U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J. His U.S. Senate campaign committee remains in existence 15 years later and still owes Kean $112,000.
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