Coming into this 12 months, no person dreamed this New Jersey congressional race can be among the many absolute hottest in America — or that Donald Trump would make it so.
Republicans have been all set to spend tens of millions to take again the 2nd Congressional District seat that Jeff Van Drew grabbed two years as a part of a Democratic near-sweep in Jersey that helped the get together regain management of the Home.
However when Democrats moved to question Trump, Van Drew wouldn’t go alongside after which shocked the political world by switching to the Republican Occasion, becoming a member of Trump on the White Home and proclaiming his “undying support.”
Van Drew got here away with a Wildwood rally that includes the president, a job in Trump’s re-election marketing campaign and a prime-time talking slot on the 2020 Republican Nationwide Conference.
However Democrats who helped him win two years in the past are out for blood and vowing revenge.
His former get together selected educator Amy Kennedy as their nominee. Sure, certainly one of these Kennedys.
That’s why the South Jersey district is entrance and heart among the many most carefully watched Home races within the nation. Greater than $four million already has been spent by outdoors teams, most on assault adverts from get together committees and tremendous political motion committees linked to Home leaders, based on the Heart for Responsive Politics.
Regardless of how a lot the airwaves are stuffed up, regardless of how items of mail attain voters, consultants mentioned the race will boil down to at least one factor: As Trump goes, so will Van Drew.
“These national headwinds and Trump himself are just going to have a strong influence over this race,” mentioned John Froonjian, govt director of the William J. Hughes Heart for Public Coverage at Stockton College, which sponsored a debate Thursday between the 2 major-party nominees..
“If it is a wave election and things really start rolling with the Democrats, Amy Kennedy has a good shot,” Froonjian said. “If, however, Trump prevails in the 2nd District, I can’t imagine that Van Drew wouldn’t also prevail.”
Thus far, Joe Biden has an edge over Trump within the district, which has supported the winner of the White Home in six of the final seven presidential elections.
And Van Drew trailed Kennedy by at the very least 6 share factors in a latest Monmouth College Ballot. He’s the one New Jersey Home member not favored to win re-election by each the Cook dinner Political Report and Inside Elections, which observe congressional races.
Van Drew mentioned that the candidate, not the political get together, is what issues.
“People voted for me because I’m Jeff Van Drew,” he mentioned throughout the debate at Stockton College’s Atlantic Metropolis campus. “People know who I am. They know what I stand for. They will vote for or against me on that basis.”
Kennedy — married to former Rep. Patrick Kennedy, D-R.I., the son of the late U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy and nephew of the late President John F. Kennedy — can be the one member of the long-lasting Democratic household serving in Congress if she wins.
“It’s a brand, just like Trump is a brand,” said Ben Dworkin, director of Rowan University’s Institute for Public Policy and Citizenship. “If her last name was Smith and not Kennedy, it would be more of an uphill battle.”
Kennedy has emphasised her personal long-standing ties to South Jersey.
“I was raised in this county, in this district,” Kennedy mentioned throughout the debate. “My family’s lived here for four generations. I taught public school. I am raising my own five kids here.”
“I don’t think you’re just that homespun schoolteacher,” Van Drew later responded. “Your loved ones’s very totally different.”
Supporting Kennedy are labor organizations who backed Van Drew in 2018, together with the New Jersey Training Affiliation and state AFL-CIO, even because the incumbent scored 100% on its 2019 scorecard.
As well as, a number of curiosity teams, together with the Sierra Membership and Finish Residents United, that originally endorsed Van Drew for re-election switched sides when he switched events.
“Jeff Van Drew is a political opportunist who betrayed South Jersey families to advance his own ambitions,” End Citizens United spokesman Bawadden Sayed said. “Now, he’s joined at the hip with President Trump, the most corrupt president of all time.”
Republicans are utilizing their nationwide playbook and attempting to tie Kennedy to her get together’s progressive wing regardless of her opposition to the Inexperienced New Deal, which requires 100% clear vitality by 2030, and Medicare for All, which might change non-public medical insurance with a single-payer, government-run plan.
And when requested about “defunding the police,” Kennedy mentioned it was worth discussing “reallocating funds to make healthy communities.” That’s the argument being made by U.S. Sens. Cory Booker, D-N.J., and Kamala Harris, D-Calif., the Democratic vice-presidential nominee, who’ve outlined the time period as investing more cash in social applications reasonably than solely rising police budgets to reply to issues.
Van Drew instructed Kennedy that he believed that there shouldn’t be a dialogue.
“I do not think there is merit to conversing about how we would defund our police,” Van Drew mentioned in probably the most heated confrontation of the controversy. “I think it will hurt them, and that’s where we disagree.”
Each side not too long ago swapped adverts over that challenge.
Van Drew used his Republican conference speech to accuse his outdated get together of pursuing a “radical socialist agenda.”
In the course of the debate, he repeated the president’s contentions that proscribing flights from China was a fast and decisive response to the coronavirus, and that New Jersey’s determination to robotically mail ballots to registered voters, a coverage the Trump marketing campaign is difficult in courtroom, would result in voter fraud.
However Van Drew additionally acknowledged throughout the debate that local weather change was actual and backed the state and native stimulus help that Trump has fought towards.
He has voted with the president simply 23% of the time, lower than some other Home Republican, based on Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight. Whereas most of Van Drew’s anti-Trump votes got here as a Democrat, he additionally has damaged together with his new get together and Trump on points similar to offering more cash for the U.S. Postal Service.
“When it comes to bread and butter issues important to the district, he really has sounded like the old Jeff Van Drew, the reasonable moderate,” Froonjian mentioned. “When he talks in regards to the president and nationwide traits, he sounds very very like a Trumpist.”
Right here’s the place the 2 candidates stand on the problems, based on Challenge Vote Sensible:
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Jonathan D. Salant may be reached at [email protected].