CD2 GOP Showdown: Atlantic County or Bust

Whichever Congressional candidate the local GOP throws their weight behind in the 2nd District, it all comes down to whoever wins the Atlantic County Republican convention this weekend.

That’s at least according to Atlantic County Republican Chairman Keith Davis.

“I think it’s going to be the most important one,” Davis said. “Mathematically it’s the most populated. It will give whoever prevails a leg up.”

Right now, the stage is split between seven candidates vying for the GOP nomination to take the place of outgoing incumbent Frank LoBiondo, a moderate Republican who’s served as U.S Representative for the district since 1995.

State Senator Jeff Van Drew is poised to run on the Democrat ticket for the seat, making the 2nd District the latest which could flip from red to blue during the 2018 Congressional midterm elections.

All 23 municipalities in Atlantic County, Davis pointed out, are in the 2nd District. The district represents the urban hubs of Atlantic City and Vineland, as well as the shore regions of Cape May, Long Beach Island and the Wildwoods.

The 2nd District also covers the rural expanses between the Delaware Bay and Atlantic Ocean: over 733,000 residents in total.

Like Republicans across the country, LoBiondo is bowing out of what’s looking to be a tooth and nail fight in the midterm election, due to a Democrat-party surge in response to President Donald Trump’s controversial presidency.

Last night, Cumberland County Republicans threw their weight behind former FBI agent Robert Turkavage. Three other GOP candidates have one county under their belt.

James Toto won Salem, Brian Fitzherbert won Gloucester and Sam Fiocchi won Cape May.

Only one candidate, Hirsh Singh, has plowed ahead with two counties under his belt: Burlington and Ocean.

Fiocchi’s lose stunned those at the Cumberland GOP Convention. He had, after all, represented Cumberland County for two years in the General Assembly, and before that, sat on the county freeholders.

“I’m surprised,” Davis said. Cumberland GOP Chairman Mike Testa, Jr. agreed.

“Obviously Fiocchi is from Vineland, born and raised,” Testa said. “I would have thought that Fiocchi had a very clear path to victory.”

If Singh wins this weekend, and sources have suggested it’s likely, then he’ll be the one best positioned to go against Van Drew.

Regardless, the large turnout of candidates has been an “opportunity” for “both sides,” according to Davis.

“It’s an opportunity to get involved. I think the party rank and file likes it because they get to hear all the candidates,” Davis added.

Testa counter argued: “It’s looking like it’s shaping up to be a primary unfortunately.”

“I would hope that if there is in fact a consensus winner, that the party would get behind that person and that the candidates that don’t necessarily look like they have a real shot at winning a primary, to bow out gracefully,” Testa added.

That being said, Davis has painted a less than rosy picture of state and local Democrats and Van Drew’s candidacy.

For one, Van Drew has recently received high ratings from the National Rifle Association over his pro-gun lobby.

That’s landed him in hot water both from his own party and activists, especially in light of the Parkland, Fla. shooting, which left 17 dead and prompted a national push for tougher gun measures.

In February, 17-year-old Egg Harbor resident Emily McGrath confronted the state senator over his pro-gun track record, and $1,000 donation from the controversial NRA.

Van Drew’s reputation as one of the most right-leaning Democrats in the state has landed him in a sticky situation, Davis suggested.

“It’s because of minimum wage, gay marriage, immigration, his voting record,” Davis said.

Davis added: “It might depress turnout in the fall, because there’s some energy in the Democratic party, but you gotta keep it going, and the question is can you keep it going.”

Van Drew, in response, touted what he saw as a progressive voting record in the State Senate for stricter gun control, on top of better protections and assistance for transgender persons.

“So I’m a moderate, I’m a moderate-to-conservative person who votes independently, and I vote based upon what I think is best for my district,” Van Drew said. He also poked fun at what he saw as a high number of GOP contenders.

But for Atlantic County, things have been looking up, and Davis has credited that success to Republicans in office.

“There’s many folks that come up to me and say ‘you know, I don’t vote Republican on the national level,” Davis said, but they still vote red for local officials.

The accomplishments for the county have been “overwhelming,” Davis said, compared to the “dysfunctionality” of politics on Capitol Hill, “where you can’t get anything done.”

“We’re trying to create more jobs and diversify our tax rate, we’re gonna rest on our accomplishments,” Davis said.

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