David Richter, the former CEO of a construction company, emerged Wednesday as the presumptive winner of a closely watched Republican primary in a South Jersey congressional district and will face freshman Democratic Rep. Andy Kim.

The Associated Press had yet to project a winner Wednesday morning and elections officials still have to count thousands of ballots in an election that was mostly conducted by mail because of the coronavirus pandemic. But early returns showed a wide enough margin for Richter that his opponent, Kate Gibbs, conceded the race around midnight. Richter led with 67% of the vote to Gibbs’ 33% in early returns.

“I’m not a politician, this is my first election,” Richter said in a statement Wednesday. “But I already know that running for Congress is tough, and it is only going to get tougher from here as we move on to challenge Andy Kim in the general election. ... We are building a grassroots campaign like this district has never seen before and I have no doubt that we will defeat Andy Kim.”

Gibbs, a former Burlington County freeholder, was the early Republican favorite in the 3rd Congressional District. But the race was upended when Richter abandoned his earlier bid to challenge first-term Rep. Jeff Van Drew in the 2nd District. Van Drew, a longtime Democrat, broke with his party over the impeachment of President Donald Trump and became a Republican. Trump allies then largely cleared the GOP primary field for Van Drew — pushing Richter to run in another district.

New Jersey Democratic Rep. Andy Kim votes with his at a mail ballot drop box outside the Medford Township Public Safety in Medford on primary election day, July 7, 2020.
ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / Staff Photographer
New Jersey Democratic Rep. Andy Kim votes with his at a mail ballot drop box outside the Medford Township Public Safety in Medford on primary election day, July 7, 2020.

Kim, who defeated a Republican incumbent in 2018 by less than two percentage points and is expected to face a close race again, has built a formidable war chest with $3.5 million in his campaign account.

“I’m running for reelection to continue serving my hometown community,” Kim said Tuesday night. “My parents taught me that service isn’t just a job, it’s a way of life.”

Richter, the former chief executive of Hill International, lent his campaign $600,000 and spent most of it. Gibbs’ campaign spent about $200,000 and was backed by an outside group that spent $225,000 on anti-Richter ads, according to Federal Election Commission records.

His victory was powered by huge margins in Ocean County, where he had the support of the local GOP. He had 79% of the vote there. Gibbs had a narrower lead in her home county of Burlington.

The district spans Burlington and Ocean Counties. Burlington County, which provided close to 60% of the district’s voters in 2018, has skewed liberal of late, while Ocean remains solidly conservative. Forty percent of voters in the district are registered without a party affiliation.

Rep. Tom Emmer (R., Minn.), chairman of the House Republicans’ campaign arm, said Richter “will be a breath of fresh air by giving voters a representative who actually follows through on his campaign promises to put them first.”

“Andy Kim sold voters a false bill of goods when he promised he’d be a pragmatic problem solver and instead went to Washington and became a rubber stamp for the extreme socialist agenda of House Democrats,” Emmer said in a statement.