Andy Kim, the former Iraq director for Mr Obama’s National Security Council, announced his run against Republican Representative Tom McArthur after receiving more than $50,000 in donations on a campaign crowd-funding site.
“Thanks for amazing support!” the 34-year-old DC resident tweeted. “I'm inspired by your energy to flip NJ03 and Congress in 2018.”
Mr Kim is hoping to “flip” New Jersey’s third district, which went for Mr Trump by 51 per cent in November. Mr McArthur beat his Democratic challenger by more than 20 per cent in the same election.
Mr Kim’s campaign is getting a boost, however, by the incumbent's most recent piece of legislation: a key amendment to the American Health Care Act (AHCA). The so-called “McArthur Amendment” would allow states to roll back protections for those with pre-existing conditions, and potentially cease coverage for "essential health benefits" like maternity care and mental health services.
The health care bill as a whole would leave 23 million more Americans without health insurance, according to estimates by the Congressional Budget Office.
Time for the people to have a voice—I'm officially running against TrumpCare 2.0 author Tom MacArthur! https://t.co/0zhPwMQ6rp— Andy Kim (@AndyKimNJ) June 19, 2017
While the McArthur Amendment earned the AHCA the support it needed to pass the House, it also drew major outcry from voters around the country. The AHCA's passage caused the Cook Political Report to change their prediction for New Jersey's third district from "likely Republican" to "lean Republican" in 2018.
The backlash culminated in a heated town hall with New Jersey residents in May, when voters vented their concerns about pre-existing conditions and essential health benefits to Mr McArthur for almost five hours.
Mr Kim was in attendance, and took the opportunity to speak out against the representative’s signature legislation.
“This is out of touch with the district that I grew up in, it’s out of touch with the district that all of these people are involved in and live in,” he told Blue Jersey. “Honestly I think what you see today is the people fighting back; the people saying, ‘Enough’.”
Mr Kim has also criticised his millionaire opponent for being “out of touch with the struggles that Americans face to pay their bills and provide for their families”.
But Mr McArthur’s personal fortune could pose problems for Mr Kim in the future. The representative contributed $5 million to his own campaign in 2014 – the most expensive open-seat Congressional race of the year. He raised $232,590 in the first quarter of 2017, and an additional $800,000 in a fundraiser hosted by Mr Trump.
Mr Kim, however, says he finds hope in recent elections – like the Georgia Sixth Congressional District special election – that show Democrats surging in traditionally red areas.
“We want that same energy,” Mr. Kim told The New York Times of the Georgia election. “We want people around the country to focus in and say, ‘This is an opportunity for us to push back and hold MacArthur accountable for his actions.’”
Mr MacArthur campaign spokesman Chris Russell defended the congressman's efforts to replace the Affordable Care Act and said he's “determined to confront and solve serious problems.”
Mr Russell told the Associated Press: “As for Andy Kim running on the health care issue, if he is as much of an 'expert' on health care as he was when advising President Obama on Isis in Iraq, voters in Burlington and Ocean Counties would be wise to keep him on the JV Team.”