Does She Got Game? Kennedy’s Atlantic County Ground War Critical in JVD Tilt

Atlantic County.

U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew (R-2) has a rep as a fierce and hard campaigner but, in the words of one source who spoke to InsiderNJ on condition of anonymity, “I do think the thing that concerns the Van Drew camp is [Amy] Kennedy’s seemingly unlimited cash supply.

He’s also worried about challenger Kennedy aligning notoriously fractured parties and producing big

Kennedy
Kennedy

Democratic Party turnout in Atlantic County (home to 67,562, or the biggest concentration of the district’s Democrats).

Sources mostly agree that right now the challenger heads into a general election with te appearance of some fracture in the ranks in Atlantic, as local operative Craig Callaway appears less than amped for a Kennedy win.

What’s that about?

“If I were Kennedy, I’d be concerned,” a source said.

“Jeff is a beast,” concurred Democratic Party operative Durwood Pinkett. “Jeff makes 30 stops a day. He shows up at places even when he’s not invited. Atlantic County will perform only if activated and organized.

“I’m sitting on my couch right now for no reason,” added Pinkett, who ended up on the losing side of a local mayoral election in the Democratic Primary, a contest that put him at odds with the Kennedy Camp. “Amy needs a hellified ground game, like there was no COVID, because remember, Atlantic City and Pleasantville are competing with house parties of two to 300 people in the suburbs – Trump supporters who are getting together in spite of COVID.

“Atlantic City can’t be fractured, and I do see a way to get these fractured pieces together,” added Pinkett, a Callaway ally, who noted that the local Callaway-affiliated party organization in the seaside gambling mecca gave Kennedy her first key endorsement of the primary season.

But it isn’t fractured, another source argued.

Progressives are motivated, the source noted, not only by Kennedy’s candidacy, but in connection with Atlantic County Democratic County Committee Chairman Mike Suleiman’s organization. Suleiman was the only Democratic chair in the district who had an open convention.

One person who didn’t come out of the referendum and primary cycle nursing any bad blood or hurt feelings was Bob McDevitt, leader of Unite Here! Local 54. McDeVitt spearheaded the aggressive but losing referendum movement against the cojoined forces of Callaway and Atlantic City Mayor Marty Small.

Like Small, “We’re strongly behind Amy Kennedy,” McDevitt told InsiderNJ. “I’m just now delivering signs. This is a very close race down here. Do I think Amy Kennedy can win? Absolutely. Look, I was always taught that signs don’t vote. But I do see a lot of Amy Kennedy signs on lawns in Cape May and Salem counties and that says a lot. People are going out of their way to make a statement. Look, our members are very irritated with Van Drew, who has had absolutely nothing to say about healthcare. We’re going to be doing everything we can to mobilize.”

McDevitt acknowledged another X factor: Kennedy’s strong ability to connect personally with voters.

“Van Drew goes to a lot of events, yeah, but he doesn’t have that human contact capacity that Amy has,” said McDevitt. “People really like Amy.”

Those deep south Kennedy signs notwithstanding, Van Drew supposedly starts very strong in Cape May (28,993 Republicans), Salem and Ocean.

“VBM helps him big time specifically in Cape May and Ocean,” said a source, who did concede potential trouble for Kennedy in Atlantic among fractured operations. “I am hearing rumblings of a fall-out with Kennedy and Callaway.

“Cumberland (31,835 registered D’s to 19,521 R’s) appears to be the bellwether,” the source added. “There are a number of defections of Van Drew Democrats now being Van Drew Republicans, including key leaders in the Vineland Puerto Rican community. I see Van Drew ahead so long as Atlantic is not a blowout for Kennedy due to mainland/suburban Republican/Trump fallout.”

To the point about Cumberland, another source acknowledged the importance for Van Drew of Cumberland, and specifically GOP performance generated by the leadership of state Senator Michael Testa (R-1), who defeated Van Drew’s allies last year, prompting the congressman to change parties, and who co-chairs the Trump Reelection Campaign in New Jersey.

“I think the pressure is on for Testa,” said the source. “He needs to follow up his impressive victory from 2019 with a good showing. The Cumberland Dems are fractured and weakened. And he was handed this major gift in the form of Jeff Van Drew. And Cumberland is just as likely to go Republican in national and statewide elections as it is to go Dem.”

The source did note the Kennedy money factor; and yet, “I have to admit, the Callaway situation would have me a little worried. I don’t think he has any great hatred [or love] for Jeff. Things seem to have cooled between them and Kennedy. How hard does he work this cycle?

“But Trump support seems really strong in Cape, so as always in CD2, it comes down to Atlantic,” the source added.

Another source noted GOP angst in Cumberland, and offered the following:

“Cumberland will be a mixed bag. Things are a mess there. They’re in this fight with the PBA over the jail, Doug Long is out of the picture. [another source denied that, pointing out that Long is still active behind the scenes]. Steve Erickson is a good guy but he’s not a campaign warrior. Testa smells blood in the water. And needs to make a good showing as the Trump co-chair and to deliver for Jeff. Salem is small but will deliver for Trump.”

A veteran source from these parts, speaking on condition of anonymity, conceded ground game challenges, but said the air wars overwhelmingly favor Kennedy, at least early (“Jeff, what are you doing?” said a source. “I don’t even see a Facebook presence.”).

“Jeff Van Drew is tied to Trump, for good and for bad,” the source said. “Gun to my head: Kennedy by two-three. The congressional candidate will track the presidential by about two points. If the presidential is plus two, the congressional will be plus four. It’s a minus two, dead even race right now, my guess.”

Alexander Bland, who leads the Cape May County NAACP, told InsiderNJ this:

“It’s going to be a competitive race, the congressman comes with a great a deal of face recognition and experience but Amy comes with a new found excitement and I can tell her campaign is thoroughly thought out. And I hate to say this because I don’t want to disregard her work but her last name gives her a celebrity-like status and everyone wants to meet her. She has marquee endorsements but the congressman did bring the President down so I couldn’t tell you who is going to win. This is going to go down to the wire may the best person win.”

Trump Van Drew
Trump and Van Drew in Wildwood earlier this year.
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