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U.S. Rep. Tom MacArthur and Democrat Andy Kim too close to call in N.J.’s Third Congressional District

The fiercely fought contest pitted Republican U.S. Rep. Tom MacArthur, 58, a former insurance executive and ally of President Trump, against Democrat Andy Kim, 36, a Rhodes scholar and national security advisor in the Obama administration who was raised in Marlton.

Andy Kim, .Publish Caption<br/>
Andy Kim, ( left) Democratic candidate for New Jersey's Third Congressional District, and ongressman Tom MacArthur meet with members of the editorial board and reporters at the Philadelphia Media Network office on Tuesday, Sept. 25, 2018.
Andy Kim, .Publish Caption<br/> Andy Kim, ( left) Democratic candidate for New Jersey's Third Congressional District, and ongressman Tom MacArthur meet with members of the editorial board and reporters at the Philadelphia Media Network office on Tuesday, Sept. 25, 2018.Read moreHeather Khalifa

TOMS RIVER, N.J. — U.S. Rep. Tom MacArthur ended his Election Night party Tuesday night without speaking and Democrat Andy Kim ended his early Wednesday by telling supporters, "We can win this thing," as both campaigns declared the race too close to call in New Jersey's Third Congressional District.

Wednesday morning, Burlington County Election Board Chair Joseph Dugan said the county still had 7,000 remaining Vote By Mail ballots to count, which he expected to be completed Wednesday. But an unknown number of provisional ballots also needed to be approved and counted, a process that could take a week, he said.

The Ocean County election board also had outstanding Vote by Mail and provisional ballots to process. Ocean County Clerk Scott Colabella said all of the county's 30,000 vote by mail ballots had been counted, but that he anticipated it would take the rest of the week to count provisional ballots.

"Ocean County gave Tom MacArthur a 30,000-plus victory margin, but unfortunately Burlington County was not so kind," Ocean County Republican Chairman George Gilmore told MacArthur supporters late Tuesday. "But we think he's still ahead. But we will still have to count provisionals and absentee votes."

In Mount Laurel, meanwhile, a smiling Kim addressed his supporters just after 12:30 a.m. Wednesday and told them, "You are the reason why we're in this place where we can win this thing. "

"We knew this was going to be one of the toughest and tightest races in the country," Kim said. "We've been saying that all along."

"We are confident that when all the votes are properly counted, Andy will be declared the winner." Kim campaign spokesman Zack Carroll said. He said tens of thousands of ballots were still uncounted, many of them from Burlington County, considered favorable to Kim.

With 99 percent of the vote counted, results showed MacArthur with a 2,300 vote lead over Kim.

The fiercely fought contest pitted the two term incumbent MacArthur, 58, a former insurance executive and mayor of Randolph in North Jersey, against Kim, 36, a Rhodes scholar and national security advisor in the Obama administration who was raised in Marlton.

The night's split decision highlighted the divided South Jersey district that joins the Democrat-heavy Burlington County in Philadelphia's suburbs with the Republican and retiree stronghold of Ocean County to the East, divided by the Pinelands.

The Third Congressional District voted twice for Obama, then went for Trump.

Turnout was high, as elsewhere. Kim himself waited in line to vote near his home in Bordentown, Burlington County. Turnout was particularly high in the Democratic stronghold of Willingboro, the Kim campaign said.

MacArthur, who lent his campaign $1.4 million, received endorsements of  three of New Jersey's four police and fire unions and the engineers union, relentlessly attacked Kim, whom he characterized as a tax cheat, Pelosi liberal and radical Trump resister. Though considered perhaps Trump's closest ally in the New Jersey delegation, MacArthur stressed his bipartisanship as the race tightened, and defended his support of the tax cut and his work on health care.

Ads paid for by House Speaker Paul Ryan's Congressional Leadership Fund declared the Korean-American Kim "not one of us." A mailer sent by the state Republican Party, employing a font some interpreted as meant to seem Asian, declared something "real fishy" about Kim. MacArthur raised a total of $4.5 million.

Kim raised $5.2 million mostly on the strength of thousands of small donations and said he would take no corporate PAC money. He was buoyed by an extensive network of grass roots activism: post-card writers, post-it note mailers, door knockers and texters both from within the district and from Philadelphia.

On Election Night, the contrasts were clear: More than 200 people gathered in the ballroom of the Toms River Days Inn Hotel in the hope they would soon celebrate MacArthur's victory. Many among the well-heeled crowd held glasses of wine and mulled about as a big screen TV tuned to Fox News broadcast the latest wins, losses, predictions. Kim's supporters, including a TV crew from a Seoul South Korean station, gathered at the Mount Laurel Westin, watching MSNBC and Kim mingled as early returns came in from Ocean County.

Monday, MacArthur got a supportive tweet from Vice President Mike Pence and had fundraising help from Trump. Kim was endorsed by former President Obama, his one-time boss, and took former Vice President Joe Biden along on a diner campaign stop. New Jersey First Lady Tammy Murphy appeared at a "Women Against MacArthur" event in October, during which cancer survivors rallied against the incumbent.

Groups like South Jersey Women for Progressive Change, and Action Together New Jersey, and its Burlington County spinoff, created after Trump's election, built extensive voter data bases and organized canvassing alongside national groups like  Swing Left. On the last weekend alone, Kim campaign spokesman Forrest Rilling said, there were 2,000 shifts of canvassers who knocked on about 100,000 doors on behalf of Kim.

Negative advertising saturated both New York and Philadelphia media markets, with MacArthur and his allies tagging Kim early on as a "tax cheat" for having to return a tax refund he received on his Washington D.C. condo after moving back to New Jersey, and accused him embellishing his resume by saying he "served" in Afghanistan even though he was a civilian advisor.

Kim never wavered in his characterization of his time on the National Security Commission as Director for Iraq, and his year in Afghanistan as a civilian advisor to Generals David Petraeus and John Allen as "service." He said he had been brought up by his parents, immigrants from South Korea who built careers as a geneticist and a nurse, on the idea of public service.

Kim soon began firing back at MacArthur, painting the wealthy Connecticut native as beholden to special interests like pharmaceutical companies.

But it was MacArthur's votes on Trump's two signature legislative efforts — supporting both the Tax Bill and the effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act — which animated the close contest.

MacArthur was the only New Jersey congressman to vote in favor of the president's tax bill, which capped state and local tax deductions at $10,000. He also voted to repeal of the Affordable Care Act, and penned an amendment — the MacArthur Amendment — credited with saving the ultimately doomed House effort to repeal Obamacare.

Those votes came under fire during the campaign, with the AARP dubbing the potential impact of his amendment an "age tax," which MacArthur said was misleading, but he acknowledged had people in his district concerned. He contended his amendment protected coverage for people with pre-existing conditions, but experts say it would have allowed states to apply for waivers to allow health plans to charge more for premiums based on a person's health status.

Late Tuesday, Gilmore, the Ocean County Republican chair, blamed New Jersey Gov. Murphy for "causing confusion" with the provisional ballots this year. A new law in New Jersey required everyone who voted absentee in 2016 to receive another absentee ballot by mail this year, unsolicited. Gilmore said many people "just threw them out," and went to the polls, where they were given provisional ballots.