In his quest to defeat a five-term Republican congressman, New Jersey Democrat Tom Malinowski is turning to the late Sen. John McCain.
Malinowski’s latest ad, obtained first by Roll Call, opens with the Arizona Republican senator introducing him to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 2013, praising his work to end torture when he worked at Human Rights Watch.
“I am forever grateful,” McCain says in the footage.
The Senate confirmed Malinowski the following year to be assistant secretary of State for democracy, human rights and labor. He’s now challenging Rep. Leonard Lance in the 7th District — the only Garden State district currently held by a Republican that voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016.
Malinowksi and McCain met in 2005, when working on legislation to ban torture. The Democratic candidate describes the late senator as a friend and said in a phone interview Tuesday that he sent McCain’s aides the TV ad ahead of time.
“So without in any way suggesting that he and I agreed on everything, which we obviously did not, I want to convey that I would be a member of Congress in the same tradition,” Malinowski said.
The campaign first used footage of McCain before the primary in biographical videos about Malinowski. But this is the first time it’s using the late senator in a paid TV communication.
“I want voters to see me as the sort of person who has reached across the aisle, and done so not for the sake of bipartisanship for its own sake, but to fight for principles that ought to unite Americans in a divided time. So that’s what we’re trying to get across,” he said.
McCain aides, including former chief of staff Mark Salter, came to Malinowski’s defense on Twitter this summer after Congressional Leadership Fund — a super PAC tied to House GOP leadership — attacked the Democratic candidate for having “lobbied for terrorists’ rights” in its first ad against him, launched in mid-August.
Malinowski said his ad was scheduled before CLF aired its attack but acknowledged that his spot acts as a response.
“Certainly, in light of those attacks on my record on national security, I don’t mind reminding voters that perhaps the most respected champion of a strong national security policy in the Republican Party was a friend and partner,” he said.
Malinowski’s first general election poll, released in late June, showed a close race. He led Lance 47 percent to 45 percent, within the margin of error. Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates their race Tilts Republican.
ICYMI: The Race to Replace Frelinghuysen in New Jersey, Explained
Correction: Malinowski’s campaign sent the ad to McCain’s aides and not his family as mentioned in an earlier version of this story.