HomeAsian AmericansAndy Kim seeks to become first AAPI senator from East Coast

Andy Kim seeks to become first AAPI senator from East Coast

By Stephanie Hoo, AsAmNews Contributor

Congressman Andy Kim doesn’t shy away from a fight.

The former diplomat flipped his district in southern New Jersey from red to blue by unseating the Republican incumbent in 2018 – then held it in 2020 and 2022 against two different self-funding millionaires.

Now, this son of Korean immigrants is in his biggest battle yet. He is seeking the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate against an entrenched New Jersey establishment that is unwelcoming to newcomers.

If elected, Kim would be the first AAPI senator from the entire East Coast.

In comments to AsAmNews, Kim said his story fuels his sense of purpose. “I still believe in the America that my parents came here for,” he said. “Fifty years ago, they came here because America meant something to them about opportunity and security and I still believe in that — I want that for my kids, so I’m going to continue to fight for the vision that my parents had.”

Kim’s main primary opponent is the current governor Phil Murphy’s wife, Tammy Murphy, who has never run for public office but already has the support of Democratic party bosses who have the power to give her favorable ballot placement in their counties — on the so-called “county line.” Kim’s name would then appear below their favored slate, in a kind of ballot Siberia.

All this, even as Kim leads statewide polling by double-digits. The primary is June 4.

The race has brought national attention to the enduring power of the political machines here in New Jersey, the only state in the U.S. that allows the “county line” system.

Further, this machine-driven politics hurts AAPIs, according to an opinion piece in the New Jersey Monitor entitled, “How New Jersey’s line disempowers Asian Americans,” co-authored by the Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders of New Jersey, Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF), and APIA Vote.

“There are over 1.1 million AAPIs in New Jersey — the fastest growing demographic,” they said, “but how many potential elected leaders are there who could make a difference for our communities, but are never allowed the chance?”

“New Jersey must join the rest of the nation in having fair ballots and give AAPIs, and all of our communities of color, a fighting chance,” they said.

Kim announced his candidacy the day after current Sen. Bob Menendez, a Democrat, was indicted for corruption, and he’s betting that most New Jersey Democrats are tired of business as usual.

The only way to stop Donald Trump and the MAGA Republicans is by “restoring integrity,” Kim said in a debate with Murphy last week. “It’s about trust. It’s about public service. But that gets at risk when we have a senator who is indicted on corruption, and now we’re seeing the broken politics that protected the senator for so many years now trying to put its thumb on the scale of our elections — including on this senate race.”

Murphy has rejected calls to share all county lines equally. (New Jersey’s 21 counties differ widely on whether and how to award county lines; so far, Kim has won party conventions in three central and southern counties, while Murphy is favored in the more populous northern counties that will decide over the next few months.)

“We are all running in the same system right now,” Murphy said in the debate. “We’re all working within the same system and if there are improvements to be made then let’s have the improvements, but right now we’re in the middle of a campaign and let’s just move forward with the ground rules as we know them.”

Among policy differences, Murphy supports Medicare for All, while Kim supports universal health care whether it’s single-payer or multi-payer. Kim says he would vote to end the filibuster; Murphy has made varying statements about filibuster reform, though in the Feb. 18 debate she said she also supports ending it.

Kim, a Rhodes Scholar, previously worked in the U.S. State Department and advised Gen. Petraeus in Afghanistan and President Obama on national security. He says he was inspired to run for Congress in 2018 when his home district Republican congressman, Tom MacArthur, was trying to repeal the Affordable Care Act — and Kim won a tight race as part of the “blue wave” that year.

He voted to impeach Trump twice and went viral when he was photographed cleaning up debris in the Capitol rotunda following the Jan. 6, 2021, attack.

Kim, at 41, would be one of the youngest senators. He admits the campaign has been hard on his young family – Kim and his wife, attorney Kammy Lai, who is originally from Hong Kong, have two sons. But, his efforts are for them, he says.

It’s a message that can resonate for Asian Americans. “Things are not going to get better on their own,” he told AsAmNews. “So I believe that we need to engage, we need to lean in and have our voices heard, which is what I’m trying to do. I’m trying to get a seat at the table, a voice in the room, and I hope people see in me someone who’s trying to fight for them.”

AsAmNews is published by the non-profit, Asian American Media Inc. Follow us on FacebookX, InstagramTikTok and YouTube. Please consider making a tax-deductible donation to support our efforts to produce diverse content about the AAPI communities. We are supported in part by funding provided by the State of California, administered by the California State Library in partnership with the California Department of Social Services and the California Commission on Asian and Pacific Islander American Affairs as part of the Stop the Hate program. To report a hate incident or hate crime and get support, go to CA vs Hate.


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