With a little more than a month to go before the Nov. 8 midterms, all eyes have been focused on the state’s 7th CD where the Democratic incumbent Rep. Tom Malinowski is in a tight race that the Cook Political Report insists is leaning toward his Republican opponent former State Senator Tom Kean Jr.
The only other New Jersey races that made Cook’s races to watch list were Rep. Andy Kim (D-3) and Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-5), both of which the political guide has categorized as likely Democratic with only the “potential” to become competitive.
With just a handful of seats determining who controls the Congress, the stakes could not be higher. Not since the election of 1860, the year before the Civil War broke out, has our nation been more divided with polling suggesting that a solid majority of Republicans do not believe that President Biden was legitimately elected president in 2020.
Meanwhile, New Jersey’s 2nd Congressional District, currently held by Rep. Jeff Van Drew, a former Democrat so taken by President Trump he became a Republican, is not on Cook’s radar. The sprawling district includes the most southerly portion of the state including towns on the shore, going as far west as the Delaware River and the Jersey suburbs of Philadelphia. It includes all of Atlantic, Cape May, Cumberland and Salem counties as well as portions of Gloucester and Ocean.
Van Drew’s Democratic opponent is Tim Alexander, 56, a lawyer in private practice who was a former detective captain of the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office and a major trials prosecutor with the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office. While Van Drew has won the endorsement of the NJ AFL-CIO, Alexander just won the backing of the Communications Workers of America- CWA District 1.
“As a former union member, Tim Alexander will fight for CWA’s values,” said Dennis Trainor, Vice President for CWA District 1, in a statement. “Down in D.C., he’ll support economic polices that build America’s middle-class. Tim will join us in the fight for good jobs, affordable healthcare and respect. He’ll say no to tax breaks for union-busters and yes to the U.S. Call Center Worker and Consumer Act.”
“I am so honored to have the support of the CWA in this race,” said Alexander. “I have belonged to Unions my entire working life, starting with my job as a produce clerk at Shoprite in high school with the RWDSU and continuing my membership with the PBA to this day. The right to collective bargaining and fair treatment of all workers is a particular passion of mine, and I cannot wait to work with the CWA after I am elected this November to improve the conditions of workers in communications, public service, healthcare, and all the other vital sectors their members keep running in our nation.”
In addition to the CWA, Alexander has won the endorsement of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU), Local 54 Unite Here, which represents Atlantic City casino workers, as well as the powerful New Jersey Education Association (NJEA).
During a wide ranging interview, Alexander said he wanted to revive the Expanded Child Tax Credit that during its brief enactment last year lifted tens of millions of children out of poverty, but he added that he was “not open to discussing raising taxes on somebody whose making $250,000 a year because somebody thinks they are rich.”
“What we can do is look at what these major corporations are doing with shifting around their holdings and their earnings so that they avoid paying their taxes,” he said. “But that takes real courage and that’s what’s lacking right now in Congress—to say to GE ‘how dare you not pay taxes when we know the wealth you are making.’”
On immigration, a defining issue in the race, the former law enforcement officer said while he didn’t want to “reward people for coming over the border illegally” there needed to be a pathway “for people that have been here for years who have been producing, paying taxes, and not seeing any benefit back from the government because they are undocumented. They have children who are Americans because they were born here. We have to bring these people into the fold with a legal pathway to citizenship.”
Alexander said the fixation on the southern border and illegal immigration ignored the reality that historically its been people over staying their visas, like two of the 9/11 hijackers did, that have posed national security risks to the country. “Let’s make sure the borders are secure but let’s direct the resources where they need to be when people overstay their visa and then blend into the system,” Alexander said. “You know what the problem with that is, the people overstaying their visa often look just like the Congressmen who are constantly espousing about the southern border.”
FEAR AND VULNERABILITY
Alexander continued. “This emphasis on the southern border is more of a racist dog whistle if it is anything—Most of these people are trying to come legally—seeking asylum because in their country they are being hunted by gangs, their children are being turned into prostitutes or child soldiers and they are fleeing and we are demonizing them.”
What the former prosecutor says needs to be avoided is a situation that’s all too common where fearful undocumented immigrants avoid officials which can have public health as well as law enforcement consequences .
“I will tell you specifically when I was a young detective, not a sergeant yet, I was assigned to the gang unit and one of my responsibilities was human trafficking, not prostitution, but for forced labor in nail salons and in kitchens and it took a long, long time for these people to talk to me,” he said. “After a while, they would at least tip us off but it took awhile to build these relationships. You have to get rid of the stigma and make it so the predators don’t think they don’t have to worry because the victims are afraid to go to the police.”
While Washington consultants might not see the potential for Democrats in this district, it wasn’t that long ago that it was one of the twenty some odd Congressional districts across the country that voted for President Obama twice but then in 2016 flipped for Donald Trump.
While nationally in 2016, Trump lost the popular vote to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, he prevailed in key swing states like Pennsylvania and Michigan to win the electoral college contest. His win was due to a confluence of the 800,000 Black voters who had voted for Obama twice, but stayed home for Clinton, and his galvanizing Reagan Democrats in union households throughout the rustbelt who felt abandoned by the Democratic Party and its global free-trade policies. Trump also validated a simmering nativist and race based grievance that linked immigration to stagnate wages and violent crime.
Van Drew. 69, is a dentist who was first elected in 2018 as a conservative pro-choice Democrat after veteran Republican Rep. Frank LoBiondo retired. In his last race, LoBiondo beat his Democratic rival David Cole 176,338 to 110,838. In 2018, Van Drew, who served in the New Jersey legislature, flipped the 2nd Congressional seat for the Democrats getting 52.9 percent of the vote. After being one of only two Democrats in Congress to vote to oppose President Trump’s first impeachment, Van Drew abandoned the Democratic Party and swore his allegiance to President Trump.
Van Drew, was one of 147 Republicans who voted to reject the electoral vote count that memorialized President Biden’s victory on Jan. 6. He also voted to oppose the formation of the bi-partisan commission to investigate the Jan. 6 insurrection. By contrast, New Jersey’s other Republican Rep. Chris Smith, voted with Democrats to sustain Biden’s vote count as well as the formation of the Jan. 6th panel. Both Van Drew and Smith voted for the bi-partisan infrastructure bill.
For Larry Hamm, long time Newark political activist, who challenged U.S. Sen. Cory Booker for the Democratic Party’s 2020 nomination, defeating Van Drew should be a national top priority.
“This race matters on several levels,” Hamm said during a phone interview. “Our overall goal should be to make sure that the Republicans do not gain control of the House of Representatives in the midterm elections on November the 8th. Here in New Jersey we can contribute to this effort by making sure to elect the Democrat Tim Alexander to hold that seat which is currently held by Rep. Van Drew. I consider Van Drew to be a conspirator in the effort to overturn the election of 2020 and a supporter of the Jan. 6 coup. Van Drew voted against the certification of the Electoral College vote that was a critical part of the plan to in fact overturn the election and more than that, to keep Trump in office past the expiration date off his term.”
In August, Van Drew held a well attended fundraiser at the Smithville Inn in Galloway Township which was headlined by top Trump advisor Kellyanne Conway.
So far, the only mutually agreed to debate has been on Oct. 19 sponsored by Stockton University and the Press of Atlantic City.
Earlier this month. Tim Alexander, and a third party candidate showed up at an Atlantic County League of Women Voters debate scheduled to take place at Oakcrest High School. Van Drew’s campaign manager Ron Filan issued a statement blasting the debate’s sponsors and offering an explanation for why the incumbent passed.
“Let’s be clear, this allegedly ‘non-partisan’ debate was organized by an active member of our opponents campaign team who is all over social media recruiting Democrat volunteers, soliciting contributions for his campaign, and organizing protests at our campaign events all while spewing vile hate-filled rhetoric equating Republicans with terrorists,” Filan wrote. “It was intentionally scheduled during a voting session of the United States House of Representatives knowing full well that Congressman Van Drew would be unable to attend. In fact, when our campaign first saw their press release announcing the debate – even though Congressman Van Drew and no Atlantic County Republicans were able to participate – we assumed this had to be a joke. It really is sad to see how Atlantic County Democrat operatives have hijacked a once well respected organization like the League of Women Voters and absolutely destroyed it’s credibility and even more disappointing that they would allow taxpayer funded resources to be used for what has always been a purely partisan political charade.”
Earlier this summer the Van Drew camp issued a press release about new data showing a shift their way in registrations released by state election officials.
“It’s been approximately 20 years since the GOP had a registration advantage in the Second Congressional District, but newly released data from the Secretary of State finds the party of Jeff Van Drew now boasting a roughly 2,000 voter edge over the Democrats in the sprawling Southern N.J. battleground district,” the release said. “The new totals: 180,546 Democrats and 182,262 Republicans. That’s a nearly 20,000 voter registrant swing since Election Day 2020 when Democrats held a roughly 18,000 advantage.
Redistricting helped, but only about half of the GOP surge is attributable to pulling in more of Ocean County; the trendline in NJ-02 dates back to the end of the Trump Administration which, of course, came about not long in time after Congressman Van Drew’s party switched to the GOP. Over the last 18 months, Democrats have gained only 5,000 new voters to Republicans’ 25,000.”
New Jersey’s voter registration deadline is Oct. 18.
In 2020, Trump got shellacked by Biden in New Jersey, but in Trump managed to best him 50.7 percent to 47 percent in the 2nd CD where turnout in Democratic strongholds like Cumberland County’s Bridgeton and Atlantic County’s Atlantic City were really anemic, lagging by double digits behind the rest of their respective counties. That helped Van Drew beat his well funded Democratic rival Amy Kennedy by a little over 20,000 votes.
Specifically, in Bridgeton just 61 percent of registered voters turned out as compared to 71 percent across Cumberland County. In Atlantic City, just 54 percent of those registered cast a ballot, as compared to 70 percent county wide. Last year, in a joint study by the Poor People’s Campaign and the Kairos Center researchers estimated that across the country 27 million low wage and low wealth people were registered to vote but did not cast a ballot in 2020.
400,000 of them were in New Jersey.