WASHINGTON — On the heels of news Trump’s team will ask for a partial recount in Wisconsin, New Jersey state Sen. Tom Kean Jr. filed paperwork Tuesday to form a recount fundraising committee that can challenge the results of his race against incumbent freshman Democratic Rep. Tom Malinoswki in the northwestern New Jersey congressional swing district.
Kean’s team didn’t respond to a request for comment, but the formation of the committee just days before the Friday state deadline by which campaigns have to ask for a recount strongly suggests that’s the direction Kean’s heading in the 7th Congressional District race.
The Associated Press called the race in Malinowski’s favor all the way back on Election Night, when the former State Department official was up by more than 28,000 votes. But in a sort of inverse situation of the “red mirage” that played out at the presidential level, Malonwski’s lead had dropped to less than 5,000 votes by Tuesday evening as more mail-in ballots were counted.
Still, with more than 96% of all votes tabulated, election trackers estimate Kean has needed some 60% of the remaining tally in order to overtake Malinowski, and he’s failed to hit that mark in the last several batches of released totals. That has put the race out of reach for Kean, the minority leader of the state senate and son of former New Jersey Gov. Thomas Kean.
Nonetheless, Kean has declined to concede.
“Votes are still being counted, and the campaign expects to make an announcement later this week,” Harrison Neely, a spokesman for the Kean campaign, told the New Jersey Globe on Tuesday.
If a recount is where Kean’s campaign is heading, they’re highly unlikely to be successful. Recounts tend to change only a few hundred votes at a time even in elections with millions of ballots cast, according to research by FairVote.
Kean’s options with a legal fundraising committee aren’t just limited to a recount, though.
Since he’s no longer technically a candidate for election, Federal Election Commission rules prohibit Kean from continuing to fundraise into jis campaign committee. But creating a recount committee allows candidates to start the whole fundraising process from scratch. Even donors who’ve reached their legally maximum allowable donation to a candidate can donate once again if the candidate creates a recount committee.
Kean raised nearly $3.5 million for his election, according to the most recently available fundraising data. He also had more than half a million dollars left in his account by mid-October.
Recounts can be costly, and in New Jersey, Kean would have to foot the bill for his own request unless it resulted in a change in the vote result larger than 10%, in which case the cost would be refunded. It’s unclear how much a recount of the district would cost, but in Wisconsin, Trump’s campaign just shipped $3 million to the state to pursue recounts in liberal Milwaukee and Dane counties.
New Jersey has seen a huge spike in mail-in voting as the state sent ballots to all registered voters amid Covid-19 pandemic fears. But state courts have already thrown out a challenge to the program by Trump and the GOP. Republicans were attempting to overturn the state’s policy to begin counting mail-in ballots 10 days before the election and accept unpostmarked ballots up to two days afterward.
Still, refusing to concede without a recount or a protracted court fight is hardly a novel strategy this election, and a recent poll shows half of Republicans believe President-elect Joe Biden only won because the election was “rigged.”
Trump’s campaign has unleashed a barrage of largely unsuccessful lawsuits across the country in states where the president lost. The campaign may also pursue recounts in other close states, although New Jersey, where Trump lost by close to 700,000 votes, is not one of them.
In Michigan, losing Republican Senate candidate John James also created a recount committee and has refused to concede even as he’s down by more than 85,000 votes to incumbent Democratic Sen. Gary Peters.