FRANKLINVILLE – The dollar stores and Dunkin Donuts and “No more Bullsh-t” Trump signs jumble
up in the mind like the dump trucked remnants of a region clawing at the edge of civilization, in search of someone to take it in its arms and nurture it out of its disrepair and despair and the forces of Amy Kennedy think she has the talent combination to be that servant leader.
“She’s your favorite teacher, she’s the girl next door, and she’s a Kennedy,” a source told InsiderNJ as we rambled south into the pine and sea salt range of South Jersey. “It’s pretty compelling, and I think – on the strength of the money advantage she has – she wins the race by four points.”
The source insisted that President Donald J. Trump’s evacuation of Atlantic City did damage that haunts the memories of too many people down here, despite the Trump takeover visuals in the water tower environs of Deptford, Glassboro and other blue collar towns. But Trump did win the district in 2016, and late last year, incumbent U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew (R-2) switched parties sooner than register an “aye” vote on impeachment.
His move prompted Kennedy into the race, where she promptly knocked off a candidate backed the same establishment that backs Van Drew, which has its own longstanding history with Trump, which appears to have ultimately failed to meaningfully transform the area, which contains large pockets of poverty. Late in the general election game here, Kennedy and her allies have hammered Van Drew for putting his own interests – and his own political survival – ahead of the district; while the congressman’s friends at the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) are trying to brand Kennedy an enemy of law enforcement.
A few days after Atlantic City operative Craig Callaway jeered at the Kennedy Campaign for plunging money into television ad buys at the expense of developing a grassroots ground game, Kennedy took to the streets in the Gloucester and Cumberland portions of the district with American Federation of Teachers (AFT) President Randi Weingarten, as part of an AFT bus swing through the area.
“We are working really hard [on GOTV],” Kennedy told InsiderNJ. “That’s how we’re going to spend our next ten days. We are out in the streets canvassing. This morning, NJEA educators, our other teachers’ union, were helping. This morning we did a Zoom call with SEIU – all the support from labor, and our volunteers too, canvassing this morning. Tomorrow, we will be in Atlantic City all day.”
In her address to supporters, Kennedy cast herself as a District 2 fighter for labor and a secure retirement. “I encourage people to be casting their ballots early,” she said. “We know how important it is to make every voice heard in this election and in South Jersey. For too long we’ve been left behind. This vote means [a lot], not just to me, but to the people who have been struggling not just during the pandemic but long before. Unemployment is high. Our kids are struggling. South Jersey’s economy needs a boost, with infrastructure and access to healthcare.”
Standing at Kennedy’s side, Weingarten went after Van Drew, a dentist by trade, noting the Republican congressman’s decision to pledge his loyalty to a a president who publicly downplayed the virus even when he knew it was a lethal enemy, and scoffed at his opponent for wearing a mask.
“To have someone who ran as a Democrat, who is in the medical profession, who then flips to being on Trump’s side and undermines all the trust he asked for from the voters and also undermines his Hippocratic Oath – it’s a metaphor for everything going on nationally – the sense of an alternative universe, which Trump keeps throwing up every day. The more we don’t fight the virus, the more people will slip into poverty and the more problems we have in our economy. You see how many people are living on the edge – paycheck to paycheck.”
Notable was the absence among the blue t-shirted crowd of Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3), who backed Brigid Harrison in the Democratic Primary.
“Steve walks on water in Gloucester,” a South Jersey source complained to InsiderNJ.
And yet, bad feelings from the primary spilled into the general, a sense of distrust perhaps among the closest Kennedy allies of distrust for those establishment tentacles that nursed Van Drew from a pro-Chris Christie state senator into a pro-Trump congressman.
A masked Weingarten, not Sweeney, played the role of co-headliner in the vicinity of a drop-box with the masked Kennedy.
The dynamics of an unhealed primary election gave at least one source reason to doubt the Democratic challenger’s concussive general election campaign and fret about a “closer than it needs to be” race against Van Drew, noting that CD3’s Andy Kim, by contrast, packages himself as a darling of the progressives even as maintains close ties to Sweeney and South Jersey overlord George Norcross III.
“There was never a phone call,” the source groaned, citing the lingering disconnect between Sweeney and Norcross, and the Kennedys (Amy is the wife of former Congressman Patrick Kennedy of Rhode Island).
No one from either camp took the initiative to pick up the phone.
Maybe it was that emissary from Norcross world early on who had offered a legislative opportunity to Amy Kennedy.
The Kennedys took offense, promptly annihilated Harrison, who had relied on multiple machine endorsements on a signal from Sweeney, and then deep froze the bosses deep in this general election cycle, who in turn maintained their own frosty distance.
Or maybe it was a true sign of resistance, well-advised reluctance to rely on too-cozy cross-the-aisle Democratic Party leaders – and consistency to a fault.
For Kennedy at the outset of the race made the case for herself as someone outside the restrictive engine rooms of the South Jersey status quo, and now, with ten days to go, at least today, seemed comfortable with having cast the die not only against Van Drew, but without the assistance of those sharply dressed, zoot suited and suspendered establishment forces who played too close to Christie and Trump for her liking.
Editor’s Note: Photos and Videos by Carina Pizarro.