CD1: Donald Norcross versus Claire Gustafson
Incumbent CD1 Democratic Congressman Norcross lugs a name around with him that hardly carries the scary overtones of the last decade. He may
yet refashion it to reflect his – and not his older brother’s – brand, which is that of a humble electrician made good as a man who improbably strides the halls of federal power. The only really heavy political work he – or his allies – had to undertake this year was in advance of the primary, when boss brother George’s ongoing derailment threatened a serious challenge from the left, which the Norcross brothers promptly put down by ramrodding a suffocating weight of progressive endorsements. Now, Norcross’ only general election challenge in an overwhelmingly Democratic district has been to find ways of staying relevant. To that end, he journeyed to Northern New Jersey this past week to project the suggestion of statewide viability.
The “race” itself in CD1 is a case of gerrymandering inevitability and catastrophic Trump overreach adding up to Republican roadkill even before supposedly noble Republican Claire Gustafson even has a chance to get out of the blocks.
A Collingwood School Board member, Gustafson tried her best to be that aggressive usurper to the establishment throne, but raked less than $50,000 in the same reporting period that Norcross registered over $1.6 million and again the district (239K registered Democrats to 89K registered Republicans; Norcross 94K votes in a joke of a June 7th primary to Gusfason’s 28K) hardly radiates Republican takeover potential.
The real story here is whether Norcross at this point has any ability to mount the ladder of statewide power should U.S. Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) go to the Biden Administration. He’s long suffered the indignity of having Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3) squatting on his political pathway, the two old uneducated labor guys clogging each other’s lane, eager for advancement and yet, as the years pass and the negative headlines mount, perhaps resigned to having reached the heady cigar bar heights of their current respective government stations.
The other point here is Murphy can’t pick Norcross to supplant Booker without (in more ways than one, of course) politically hurting himself, the other consequence of cultural realities tightening a noose around too many old Baby Boomer bubble white guys holding power.
A fixture of the New Jersey Assembly in the early part of the millennium, the Democratic Party version of Van Drew took
regular batting practice against liberal policies advanced by the likes of former Governor Jon Corzine. In the days when Chris Christie was merely a considerable shadow on the Statehouse and not an actual presence in it, Van Drew built a political record as an outspoken opponent of policies like asset monetization, deflating Corzine while the governor moped around the state vainly in search of support.
Unable to reconcile himself to the AOC future of the Democratic Party and genuinely spooked when his political acolyte, Robert Andrzejczak sustained a 2019 beating from the Trump-trumpeting of Republican Mike Testa, Van Drew fled the Democrats rather than eat a primary loss. But his American Flag pin in the lapel appearance alongside the GOP President in Wildwood earlier his year may prove regretful to the almost always pragmatic and cautious to a fault Van Drew.
Prior to landing the Democratic nomination for his party in 2018, the lawmaker fretted openly that CD2 was very different from LD1.
LD1 didn’t encompass Atlantic County, which, of course, contained Atlantic City, and a different set of priorities. It’s possible that rather than rubberizing Andrzejczak’s loss into CD2 (164K Dems to 144K Republicans) and changed parties in fear, Van Drew should have reoriented himself to those specific dimensions of his newfound district. Erratic wild card Trump and Van Drew campaigning together in Cape May may make for suitable theatrics in LD1 (44,591 registered Democrats to 47,000 Republicans and a huge swath of rural conservative independents), but ultimtely only enflame casino workers in Atlantic City still angry over Trump bragging about his casino era bankruptcy that resulted in 1000s of them losing their jobs.
Look at the primary numbers in CD2.
Republicans registered 56,855 votes, giving 45,226 of them to Van Drew.
By comparison, Democrats registered 68,981 votes, with Kennedy harvesting 43,414 of them.
Now Van Drew, of course, is banking on conservative independents – and maybe even some of the 15,560 Brigid Harrison voters – going his way.
But it’s possible the Cape May politically educated Van Drew miscalculated the extent to which Atlantic County, in Trump payback mode, turns out for Kennedy. Moreover, Sweeney is evidently not looking to help Van Drew. There’s a genuine distance between the two men. So if Building Trades workers are not going on warpaint-wearing Donald Norcross-like labor walks for Kennedy, they’re also not standing in her way.
Before untangling the Harrison voters, Kennedy and the other Democratic Primary candidates amassed 54,421 votes, or 2,434 fewer than Van Drew. Considering Harrison strongly endorsed Kennedy and the casino workers who backed her are going for Kennedy now, strongly, and the Building Trades had a complicated, up and down working relationship with the congressman, it’s not unreasonable to consider that most of Harrison’s backers will break for Kennedy.
Again, Van Drew likes his pull with independents; but again, he’s banking on CD2 independents acting like LD1 independents, a South Jersey transcendent gamble, but the Kennedy Campaign has maintained a big money edge in this campaign and Cumberland, that CD2 portion of the terrain that overlaps LD1, could prove critical for Democrats in this race, intent on repaying Van Drew treachery with big numbers. Remember. Early numbers in the primary put Kennedy ahead of Harrison by 2-1, aas rank and file party members sought to through off the shackles of the same machine that enabled Van Drew for years.
The Cook Report calls this a Republican Toss-Up, but the confluences of negativity-peaking Trump and Christie, himself still dragging the reckless horrors of Bridgegate and self-aggrandizing vote deals with Norcross world that hardly turned around maufacturing-deprived CD2, makes this one actually a Democratic Toss-Up, even leaning Kennedy (see this poll, where Kennedy leads by five points, despite the congressman’s confidence based on his internals) on the strength of the LD1 – not CD2 – grounded Van Drew miscalculating, and voter performance in Atlantic and Cumberland.
- Amy Kennedy
- Atlantic City
- Atlantic County
- Building Trades
- Claire Gustafson
- Cory Booker
- Cumberland County
- Donald Norcross
- Donald Trump
- George Norcross
- Jeff Van Drew
- Joe Biden
- Jon Corzine
- Mike Testa
- Phil Murphy
- Robert Andrzejczak
- Steve Sweeney
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