Former teacher and mental health advocate Amy Kennedy of Brigantine won the CD2 Democratic Primary, running over her main rival and in the process rattling the entrenched power structure of her party in South Jersey.
“The results clearly show South Jersey is ready for change,” said Kennedy, who campaigned trail early with Martin Luther King, III. “where all people, regardless of the color of their skin, have access to opportunity and justice. We’re ready for leaders with compassion, who serve their communities and not themselves.
“My message to Jeff Van Drew is we have had enough and we demand better,” she added. “We have had enough of you and Donald Trump.”
It was a rout: 59-25 with 50%.
The results in the Cumberland County portion of the district (ultimately 2,623 or 53.59% to Brigid Harrison’s 1,417 or 28.95%) put Kennedy up even before the results from Atlantic County – where she has the organization line – were completely tallied. The off-the-line freeholder candidates in Cumberland waited to see if Kennedy coattailed them.
In her own contest, Kennedy defeated Montclair University Professor Brigid Harrison, who had the support of George Norcross muscle in her bid to go up against U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew (R-2), an incumbent welded to President Donald J. Trump, and to former Governor Chris Christie, a close, cross-the-aisle ally of Norcross.
Six out of the eight machines in the district went in early behind Harrison.
But the professor’s candidacy failed to click on the authenticity front, as the financially well-connnected Kennedy, wife of former U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy and the daughter of former Atlantic County Freeholder Jerry Savell, beat her machine-backed rival, whose Norcross-connected handlers ran a mostly negative campaign in the closing weeks, prompting most insiders to start buckling up for a Kennedy v. Van Drew general.
Kennedy tonight also defeated Will Cunningham, formerly of the office of U.S. Senator Cory Booker (D-
NJ), who enjoyed a late spurt of energy in a well-run campaign that could never get around the Kennedy name, money and deep regional political roots; and Norcross world trying to stave off yet another humiliating loss.
Finally, neither Harrison – who ran with Booker’s endorsement and the backing of the Norcross/Senate President Steve Sweeney nexus, or Cunningham, who offered a compelling personal story – could bully Kennedy, reconfirmed as the frontrunner when Governor Phil Murphy offered his own endorsement of her Democratic Primary candidacy.
Murphy were in attendance tonight at Kennedy’s victory speech in Northfield.
“This is an extraordinary person and an extraordinary candidate,” said the governor, who cited his father’s family, Barack Obama, and the Kennedys as his main influences.
“She will represent South Jersey as its bever been represented before,” said Murphy, who delighted in
throwing an elbow at Van Drew. “We have that guy who cut and run and you’ve got Amy Kennedy, who’s the real deal.”
A South Jersey source watched the spectacle.
“How about Murphy spiking the football?” he marvelled.
The New Jersey Governor had every reason to welcome an opportunity for an endzone dance.
The defeat by Harrison dealt another loss to the South Jersey Democratic Organization and to Murphy arch-foil Norcross, whose General Majority PAC spent $500,000 on her (heavily Booker TV-centric) campaign. Amid headlines dredged by the Murphy Administration hounding Norcross over a tax credit program benefiting Camden-based businesses close to him, he and Sweeney had backed Democrats in LD8 and LD1 last year, upended in tough losses, which in part propelled Van Drew – a Democrat as recently as last year – into the Republican Party.
But the whisper of dealmaking with Trump and Christie, based on their history, never enabled Harrison to get out from under the dented Norcross mantle.
“It’s their most historic and decisive loss,” said Sue Altman, head of New Jersey Working Families and a Kennedy backer. “This is a huge race. The stakes were high. The General Majority PAC put a ton of money in. There’s a struggle for power with labor and workers on one side, and the other most corrupt machine in New Jersey history on the other. That was what was at stake tonight.
“I thought there was palpaple energy [early],” Altman added. “This is a district that has been forgotten for a really long time, home to some of the state’s poorest and most distressed communities. When Jeff Van Drew defected, it gave progressive Democrats a mandate to take the helm. Clearly, the way things were going, it was a failure and time for change.”
Two weeks ago, sources in Cumberland County told InsiderNJ that Harrison – where she had the organization line on Sweeney’s nod – was running substantially behind Kennedy, and even people close to the powerful boss were saying it was over. Kennedy was projected to mop up in Atlantic County, the county with the biggest plurality of Democratic voters in the district, where she handily defeated Harrison at the county party convention in March, which was really the first indication that Harrison was in trouble.
Tonight, Atlantic County Democratic Chairman Michael Suleiman released the following statement
regarding the primary election in the Second Congressional District: “I’d like to congratulate Amy Kennedy on her victory tonight. I’d also like to commend Brigid Harrison and Will Cunningham for the strong campaigns they waged. Since at least 2008, no county organization has worked harder for the Democratic candidate in the Second Congressional District than the Atlantic County Democratic Committee. We look forward to continuing this tradition with Amy and doing everything we can to make Jeff Van Drew a one-term congressman.”
The Second District leans slightly Democratic in terms of pure registered voters, but Van Drew – who earlier this year welcomed President Donald J. Trump to the boardwalk for a national-scale rally – has longtime name identification in the region.
Still, a source tonight said Kennedy has a puncher’s chance in the general.
“More than I would have [given] Brigid,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity. “This is going to be an election devoid of public events. So it’ll come down to name recognition and negatives.
“It’ll be interesting to see how much Jeff pivots back to the center, which is more his comfort zone,” the source added. “Trump is clearly going to double and triple down on his rhetoric. I wouldn’t be surprised if Jeff subtly starts to distance himself from some of it.”
But Kennedy, who ran in defiance of the very machine that dealt Van Drew in at the start, after tonight especially, may have something more defiant to say about that.
“South Jersey stands united that Jeff Van Drew must go and as Democrats we now stand committed to putting the recent past behind us and unite together to beat him in November,” said the defeated Democratic Party candidate.
Norcross was smiliarly eager to project humility in defeat and expressed his dedication to dethroning the GOP incumbent.
“Congratulations to Amy Kennedy, who has won a strong victory,” he said. “As I said months ago, I look forward to supporting the Democratic nominee in the general election. It is important that we retake the second congressional seat and continue to advance a pro-worker, pro-reform, and pro-civil justice agenda in Washington.”
It was hard to escape the underground guttural howls of the South Jersey Democratic machine flying off its axis, the compounded losses weakening – maybe utterly – a ten-year-plus dual hand-hold Norcross and Sweeney had on governmnet in this state. But again, insiders will watch where they go with Christie tied into Van Drew and in position to likely lean on his old friends, who will be tested to try to rise above neutrality, at the very least, to back someone who just humiliated their machine.
But tonight, for part, a victorious Kennedy made Van Drew the solitary target, denoucning him for defecting and lumping him with the GOP president he threw in with when he changed parties.
“I know you’re ready for change,” Kennedy told her supporters in Northfield.
CD2 will be one of the top-watched general election contests in the nation.