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U.S. Rep. Andy Kim declared winner against David Richter in New Jersey’s Third Congressional District

The freshman South Jersey Congressman won a second term against businessman David Richter.

Congressman Andy Kim answers questions from reporters at a campaign event in  Willingboro, N.J. on Election Day 2020.
Congressman Andy Kim answers questions from reporters at a campaign event in Willingboro, N.J. on Election Day 2020.Read moreMIGUEL MARTINEZ / For the Inquirer

In 2018, Andy Kim and then-U.S. Rep. Tom MacArthur played to a draw on election night in the race to represent New Jersey’s 3rd Congressional District.

Kim dramatically declared victory a day later in a crowded office room after enough vote-by-mail ballots were counted in Democrat-rich Burlington County.

This year, Kim still had to wait, but the Associated Press declared him the winner shortly after midnight over Republican businessman David Richter.

His campaign had earlier said it would await full results in the coming days. But with 75% of precincts reporting just after midnight, the AP called the race for Kim, leading 55% to Richter’s 44%.

Wednesday evening, Kim said he would still wait for a final vote count before he personally declared victory. “There are still some more ballots to count before we know for sure,” Kim wrote on twitter. “We see right now across our nation the critical importance of ensuring we get this right.”

Made up of almost all of Burlington County and a large piece of Ocean County, the 3rd District is a longtime Republican stronghold in a Democratic state. Former Eagles tackle Jon Runyan represented the district from 2011 to 2015. Kim flipped it by fewer than 4,000 votes in 2018. This victory makes him the first Democrat in decades to hold the seat for consecutive terms.

A former national security aide under President Barack Obama, Kim has proven a prolific fund-raiser, especially for a freshman. He’s raised more than $4 million since joining Congress, and had $3.5 million in campaign cash at the end of June, according to federal filings.

Earlier Tuesday, Kim appeared with Gov. Phil Murphy outside his headquarters in Willingboro and reflected on the difference campaigning this year from two years ago.

“First time around, I wasn’t sure I could pull it off,” Kim said. “I find it to be really rewarding this time around to talk about what it is I’ve been working on, work that I’m doing as the only member of Congress from New Jersey to serve on the Small Business Committee. I serve on the select Committee on the Coronavirus Crisis. I’ve really tried to deliver for this community.”

He said the issues he ran on the first time had only grown more important in the last two years, and crossed party lines throughout his district.

“We are experiencing a health crisis every moment of our lives right now," he said. "What is at stake is so clear and present to me right now.”

In an interview Monday, Kim’s Republican opponentdismissed Kim’s claims of bipartisanship and said Kim was not a moderate. “He claimed he’d be a moderate voice for South Jersey,” Richter said. “Andy Kim is not a moderate. He talks about being bipartisan. He’s a rubber stamp for Nancy Pelosi.”

The district spans the pricey Philadelphia media market and the even more expensive New York market, and spending on TV ads underscores how hard-fought the race could be: The campaigns and outside groups had combined to drop about $11 million in ad spending through Election Day, according to the ad-tracking firm Advertising Analytics.

In 2018, Kim promised he would take a deliberative, serious and transparent approach to representing the district in which he grew up, focusing on health care, veterans, and the local economy.

While national Democratic campaign groups have run negative ads against Richter, including mailers he claimed were anti-Semitic, with dollar bills and heightened facial features, Kim’s own campaign mostly chose to stress Kim’s biography, his family (especially his two young sons), and his commitment to his home district.

“He does have cute kids, I’ll give him that,” Richter said in a pre-election interview.

But the negative ads that MacArthur and national Republicans slung at him in 2018, with a booming voice saying his name (and which he said would occasionally interrupt his time watching YouTube with his then-very-young sons) were mostly absent.

In the third quarter, Richter, former CEO of the construction company Hill International, raised just $568,793, while Kim raised $2 million. Richter invested $700,000 of his own money.

Burlington County was swing territory a few decades ago, but as the population in towns along the Delaware River changed, it has shifted left. In 2018, Democrats took control of the county’s governing board for the first time in 40 years. A year later, they captured all five seats.

About 40% of voters in the district are registered with no party affiliation, making them critical to the outcome of any general election.