LD1 Collision Course: Men and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

Democratic Senator Robert Andrzejczak, left, and Republican challenger Mike Testa are on a collision course to represent South Jersey's LD1.
Downtown Vineland.
Downtown Vineland.
The boardwalk, Ocean City.
The boardwalk, Ocean City.
My girl, my girl, where will you go
I’m going where the cold wind blows
In the pines, in the pines
Where the sun don’t ever shine
I would shiver the whole night through
My girl, my girl, don’t you lie to me
Tell me where did you sleep last night
In the pines, in the pines
Where the sun don’t ever shine
I would shiver the whole night through

                                                    Lead Belly

Rep. Jeff Van Drew, Democrat of New Jersey, @FoxandFriends Thank You.

                                                                         President Donald J. Trump

 

LD1: The Shape of the Marquee Race of 2019 in New Jersey

Senator Robert Andrzejczak
Senator Robert Andrzejczak, LD1 Democrat.

OCEAN CITY/VINELAND – The two men running for a two-year senate term in the 1st legislative district (LD1) come from different backgrounds and parties, one a quiet war hero who arrived in politics through an act of heroism on a foreign battlefield that almost killed him and left him reliant on an artificial leg, the other a sharp and well-spoken trial attorney, who thrills to the life of politics and jurisprudence, and jumps excitedly into argument from a staked position of conservative Republican principle and proud family heritage.

It’s tough here in this place with a storied maritime and military history. Guys on Harleys in hurricane country, bearded and bald in combat boots with compound bows on backs and American flags flying, ride from the pines to the shore and back.

Road side bar stops along the way.

The sea and forest never far, and never far the evidence of nurtured, fruit and vegetable-bearing land.

The shape of the district requires those who serve to come from the seaside or inland, balanced by ticket

Republican attorney (and Cumberland County GOP Chairman) Michael L. Testa, Jr. of LD1.
Republican attorney (and Cumberland County GOP Chairman) Michael L. Testa, Jr. of LD1.

mates who hail from the district’s other diverse regions. So it is in this case that Senator Robert “Bob” Andrezjczak (D-1) hails from the sea, and Republican challenger Michael L. Testa, Jr. from the woods, their running mates from the woods and sea respectively. Composed (but for three towns in Atlantic County) of Cape May (3-1 Republican; on paper: 15,281 D’s, 26,757 R’s and 23,798 independents), and a significant part of Cumberland (3-1 Democrat; on paper: 22,347 D’s, 13,998 R’s, and 32,399 independents), politics here in this battleground necessitates a juggling act, and a car with a good engine under the hood for the wide and wild expanses. On a much smaller scale, the current contest resembles somewhat a state district version of the 1960 presidential race, when John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon each tried to run to the other’s right, in this enduring freedom fries back country district at the state’s tail end.

The contest coming on the heels of a decade of state senate service by now U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew (D-2) contains a definite South Jersey district-wide grudge brand. But as the lone state senate race this year for the seat occupied by Andrzejcazk when his political mentor Van Drew went to the congress, its resonance goes wider – statewide and even beyond.

In a way, it’s the only real 2019 game in town, ten years after Van Drew and his neighbor, the late state Senator Jim Whelan (D-2), both busted into the upper chamber with the considerable assistance of the South Jersey Democratic Organization.

And it is decidedly a heavyweight fight (or was, until Godzilla devoured one of them, see the President’s tweet, below).

Going back to the beginning of the millennium when he snagged an assembly seat, Van Drew built LD1 into a Democratic district based on his own center-right brand. The hands-on pol propelled himself into  the senate in 2007, when he displaced incumbent Senator Nick Asselta (R-1). Now his good friend, war hero Andrezjczak, wants to hold onto the seat in a district where overall registered Republicans (42,074) outnumber Democrats (38,510) on paper, with 57,545 independent voters hanging in the balance.

Boardwalk Nobility: Quest - on the leash of master Jonathan S. Atwood - at parade rest before the start of the march.
Boardwalk Nobility: Quest – on the leash of master Jonathan S. Atwood – at parade rest before the start of the march.

If the quiet-spoken senator can hold off his game and excitable Republican challenger, he will have maintained, again, the political hegemony of South Jersey Democrats (who number seven strong in the caucus of Senate President Steve Sweeney, the reason why the General Majority PAC, with ties to power broker George Norcross III is involved here). An Andrzejczak win would also perhaps dampen the enthusiasm of Republicans, eager to use this year’s election results to make a case for reining the power of the Van Drew Team in time for 2020, when Congressman Van Drew himself must face his first federal reelection. It’s no accident that Andrzejczak signs bear the “Van Drew Team” brand, as buzz in a low turnout election year already takes in the prospect of next year’s coming contest, and last year’s conquered general election Republican candidate, Seth Grossman of Atlantic County, paws at the sand. Van Drew beat Grossman 53-45% but if Testa distinguishes himself in a close loss to Obi Wan this year, with the Camden machine against him, might he take a crack next year in a high turnout opportunity election, at district boss, the nurturing Qui Gon Jinn?

While Andrzejczak and Testa and their respective LD1 mates slug it out on their own turf, the state’s most powerful men are watching. Not only do Sweeney and Norcross obviously want Andrzejczak to win to withstand any suggestion – against the backdrop of an ongoing state and federal investigation of the state’s distribution of state Economic Development Authority (EDA) tax incentives that benefited Norcross’ business interests – of a wobbling South Jersey-dominant narrative. But Governor Phil Murphy, assailed during his tenure by the nerve center of power emanating from the long-time establishment of his own party led by Norcross, would likely find it hard to root in uproarious fashion for Andrzejczak, who describes himself as diametrically opposed to the governor, and whose closest allies stayed out of Atlantic County last week sooner than appear on the side of a millionaire’s tax-intent governor partying with the impeachment-seeking Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). Republicans looking for their party’s nomination to run against Murphy in 2021 are likewise engaged on behalf of Testa. Pharmaceutical magnate Bob Hugin and former Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli continue to find their own unique ways to back the warpaint-wearing Vineland attorney.

Ironies run through the pines and on the shoreline of this contest – bigger than the men themselves and their individual stories, precious to them and to those who love them, as insiders summon even the dimensions of a proxy war for the 2020 presidential contest, between a Democrat fighting the left in his own party and a Republican embracing the right in his (see President Donald J. Trump’s tweet at the ever self-preservation-minded Van Drew, below). An insider on the ground in LD1 refused to unequivocally call the race, referring to a crazy and insane Jim Florio-like time of extreme partisan politics, hard to read amid genuine hatred.

“They suck,” a man in a Veterans of Foreign Wars baseball cap roared on the boardwalk when InsiderNJ asked him about politicians. Giggles ensued in the vicinity. Moments later, respectful solemnity replaced hostile animation on his features with the presentation of the colors in the area of the Ocean City Music Pier, patriotism providing a meditative space or retreat from the spit bucket of politics.

The meaning of war to the voters of this place and of sacrifice and will; and the meaning of real advocacy as part of an ongoing prosecution and defense fought with words and ideas and will rather than guns (but always for guns in this big pro-2nd Amendment southern country) clash now in a sometimes forgotten far-flung district, where the broadest consequences of New Jersey power, at the very least, ultimately fall upon the shoulders of two young and proud native LD1 sons.

Senator Robert Andrzejczak (D-1)
Senator Robert Andrzejczak (D-1) at Saturday’s Bronco’s Warriors’ Walk for the Wounded 2019 Team in Ocean City.

Andrzejczak

Ocean City Boardwalk on Saturday morning.
Ocean City Boardwalk on Saturday morning.

Facing the shore in Ocean City, veterans, families and friends congregated Saturday for their annual Walk for the Wounded, where a man among them stood on the boardwalk with the help of a prosthetic leg.

The future Senator Andrzejczak of Lower Twp. picked tomatoes for money as a kid, worked on the docks and in the local lobster house.

His father spent a career in the Coast Guard, and told his son whatever he did, don’t go into the military. But then 9/11 happened, and Andrzejczak, with the family call of service already in him, bucked the entreaties of both parents. He wanted to serve his country.

Saturday morning on the boardwalk in Ocean City.
Saturday morning on the boardwalk in Ocean City.

He went Army.

They deployed him to Iraq, first in 2006, and then again in 2008.

Promoted to specialist, he was on his second deployment in a fire zone when the vehicle he was in got hit.

“I ended up on the wrong end of a grenade,” he recalled.

At that point he knew he wasn’t going to have a leg anymore.

“Who’s hurt?” he wanted to know, when the smoke cleared.

“You are,” his men told him.

“No, who else is?”

“You’re it. You’re the only casualty.”

They choppered him out of there but his bleeding was so profuse, intensified when they gained altitude, they had to land the helicopter multiple times at bases around Iraq.

At one point he blacked out and woke up on a plane to Germany, where he began a long and agonizing process of recovering from his wounds.

They told him they had amputated his leg.

“I already knew that,” he said. From when the grenade hit, “My leg was blown off at that point.”

But in the months ahead as his body struggled to fight infection, doctors would have to remove more of the injured area. To this day, he contends with shrapnel.

The first phone call home was tough.

On every other call he had been able to tell his parents he was okay.

Not this time.

He felt he had let his parents down.

He didn’t know it then but the Department of Defense had already contacted the Andrzejczaks, and his mom was preparing to fly to Germany in time to see him because the army didn’t expect him to survive. Stabilized but still imperiled by infection, he returned stateside to Walter Reed Hospital, where he endured a last amputation above the knee, which saved his life.

In the two years ahead that it took him to relearn how to walk and recover, he received letters of support from around the state of New Jersey.

Van Drew

“That meant a lot to have the letters in the toughest battle of my life,” Andrzejczak told InsiderNJ. “It meant a lot to me, and I wanted to give back to the community.”

He was never political prior to his recuperation and the aftermath.

“Politics did grow out of that experience,” he said. “It wasn’t something I was thinking of at the time. I wanted to give back as much as I could. [Then-Senator Jeff] Van Drew approached me and said, ‘You ever need anything, call me.’ I needed help with the VA and he needed help with veteran’s legislation, and we built a good relationship. Little did I know that would snowball into running for the general assembly.”

He joined the ticket in 2013, supplanting a jammed-up Nelson Albano and helping Van Drew smother his opponent in a tough election year with Governor Chris Christie running for reelection at the top of the opposition ticket. Notably, Christie did not campaign with Van Drew’s opponent (the calculated consequence of a South Jersey-Christie symbiosis), but the Iraq War veteran’s presence alongside the incumbent Democratic senator in a would-be battleground drained all oxygen from the GOP.

“Politically we feed off each other,” Andrezejczak acknowledged. “But it turned into a friendship. Friendship is more important.”

Driving together on the campaign trail in the big rural district gave them an opportunity to discuss and debate ideas and issues. “We were never silent [on those drives],” the soldier turned lawmaker recalled. “Together we were able to see both sides of the coin and I think we really benefited from it. It was a great learning experience.”

Ocean City
Ocean City

No one denies the military service record of the incumbent senator, who earlier this year assumed the LD1 seat his friend and fellow Democrat first won in 2007. But his political opponents harp on his ties to a Democratic Party that also provides a berth to a leftward fringe viewed with suspicion and revulsion in these parts. In addition, the close ties the senator – like Van Drew before him – has to the Camden-based Democratic machine also lead to questions about Andrzejczak’s independence.

Republican Testa is intent on running as the anti-Norcross candidate in the contest, even as the Democrat insists on his and his running mates’, Assemblyman Matt Milam and Assemblyman R. Bruce Land, collective ability to make their own district-centered policy and political decisions.

“When you look at our record, we represent the people of South Jersey and the people of the 1st District,” Andrzejcazk said. “We voted against what the party [working with then-Governor Christie] wanted: a 23 cents per gallon gas tax hike. They wanted us to vote for it and we didn’t because it was going to hurt the people.”

Andrzejcazk says he’s strong on 2nd Amendment issues (“It’s not just about hunting but personal self-defense.”) and opposed to driver’s licenses for undocumented workers.

But the aggressive presence of the General Majority PAC, with its ties to the Norcross financial universe in the state’s only state senate race this year, suggests other unavoidable loyalties, even obedience, argue Testa and his team. Earlier this month, the Republicans challenged Andrzejcazk to repudiate a racist mailer released by the PAC.

“Looking at the mailer, I got it too, we have no control over that and it’s against the law for us to have any communication [with the 527 political organization],” said the senator.

Cape May County Democratic Committee Chairman Brendan M. Sciarra and Senator Robert Andrzejczak (D-1).
Cape May County Democratic Committee Chairman Brendan M. Sciarra and Senator Robert Andrzejczak (D-1).

“The racial tone, if there was any, we would disagree with, however, when I saw that mailer I didn’t see a racial tone,” he added. “They’re trying to spin it and make it a racial issue. There are negatives on their side. I disagree that it was a racial issue.”

If it were, “I would be 100% be against it.”

Sweeney in LD1
Sweeney in LD1

Ever wary of the left of his party in a conservative legislative district, Andrzejczak obviously identifies readily with regional party ally senate President Steve Sweeney’s (D-3) side of the political equation in an intra-party fight with Governor Murphy. And while he insists he doesn’t see it that way, he also readily makes a point of distancing himself from the governor on a key issue, while also throwing an elbow at Murphy’s leadership priorities.

“The whole faction between north and south, I disagree with the infighting,” he said. “We should all be working to make the state a better place.

“To be bickering among ourselves – when you’re governor, you need to represent everyone,” the senator added. “That’s what you need to do. The constituents of New Jersey are taking a hit. …I could not be further from the governor’s executive order making New Jersey a sanctuary state. We need to be working with congress on the federal level to make changes to our immigration policy.”

Does he back the impeachment of Trump, underscored last Friday with the arrival to Atlantic City of Speaker Pelosi, who addressed a conference of Democrats organized by Murphy’s ally. Democratic State Party Chairman John Curie.

Like Sweeney and other South Jersey Democratic Party affiliates, Andrzejczak  did not attend the conference.

“It’s kind of ridiculous for me to try to answer [a question about a] federal issue,” he said on the impeachment question. “We don’t have an opportunity to vote on it. It’s not a state issue.”

The Saturday boardwalk event for the Wounded Warriors was beginning.

Flags at attention.

Andrzejczak, full military stride, walked into the crowd.

Cape May County Democratic Committee Chairman Brendan Sciarra said of the LD1 team, with a particular focus on the county races he’s running, “I think they’re going to do  great. Bob has always done what’s right for South Jersey. I think Bob understands that he’s not going to be an x guy or a y guy. He really does care about what’s right for South Jersey. He’s his own person. He’s not a party guy.”

A lieutenant colonel war hero, Jersey girl, went to the mic and choked up.

Her husband’s in-country somewhere and his unit just took a hit on the ground.

A helicopter went down.

Casualties.

Andzejczak stood in the crowd, a face almost unseen amid the blue T-shirts honoring the fallen and the wounded.

His running mate, Assemblyman Land, a veteran of the Vietnam War, also stood at attention.

A high school football player for the Millville Thunderbolts, Land went to Vietnam as a buck sergeant and

Assemblyman Land

ran a platoon of 35 men.

“It was touching to hear from the Gold Star mothers,” he later told InsiderNJ.

He was in the war from 1970 to 1971.

“We lost quite a few of our guys to combat missions and we didn’t get a whole lot of love when we got back, as you’ll remember,” said the assemblyman, who’s lived in Vineland for 44 years. “Slowly over the years, people have come out of their shells.”

His voice was not entirely in control.

“Even today,” Land said, “50 years later, it’s emotional for me. Bob and me – we have something in common. My nickname in Vietnam was Bronco.

“And that’s what they called Bob, too, when he was in Iraq.”

In his and his father's law office, Mike Testa admires a book published in 1919 from the library built by his grandfather, the Honorable late Frank J. Testa.
In his and his father’s law office in downtown Vineland, Mike Testa admires a book published in 1919 from the library built by his grandfather, the Honorable late Frank J. Testa.

Testa

Inland.

Vineland.

Roughly 67% white, 38% Hispanic and 14% Black, built by Jews and Italians, surrounded by pines, and big stretches of grape arbors and fruit and vegetable fields and farm markets, the Cumberland County city concentrates long streets into a downtown dominated by the law offices of Testa Heck Testa and White.

Born in 1915, the man who would found the firm, Frank J. Testa was born and raised in Vineland, but growing up on the city’s Italian-dominant south side, did not speak a word of English prior to the first grade. He would graduate as the valedictorian of his high school class, become the city’s first elected mayor, the driving force of a family in which two of his three sons followed him into the law, and now his grandson – proud inheritor of a name he daily strives to live up to – wants the senate seat occupied by Andrzejczak.

At the height of a distinguished career, Frank Testa became a superior court judge. Upon retirement from the bench, he envisioned the three generations of Testas practicing law together in the space where he built a legal reference library stocked with some of the region’s finest books.

It wasn’t to be. The judge died in 2001, shortly before his grandson, Mike Testa, Jr., passed the bar.

A locally painted portrait of the family patriarch hangs in the entrance of the law office, and the room where he worked contains a picture on the wall of a cobbler making shoes, in honor of the profession of his own father.

Now father and son practice law together on Landis Avenue, a street named after the city’s founder, and both miss their elder, and the grandson, ever grateful, confesses to still being upset over never having had the chance to practice law with the man who mentored both of them.

“My grandfather had this respect for the rule of law,” Testa told InsiderNJ. “He found the legal profession to be one of the most respected professions. It might not be today. But I remember seeing his original sign: Frank J. Testa, Counselor at Law. I know that was something he was so proud of.”

Michael Testa, Sr., with former Governor Tom Kean.
Michael Testa, Sr., with former Governor Tom Kean.

All three generations proud Republicans, Testa, Jr. followed his father to Villanova University Law School. A voracious reader (his favorite book is the Robert Pirsig classic, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, which details the interdependence of the classic and romantic views of the world) and accomplished athlete, he life-guarded in Wildwood as a kid, bartended, played tennis in college, and always – always – always – argued.

It was the Testa way.

Now, having served as chairman of the Cumberland (home to NJ Department of Agriculture Commissioner Douglas Fisher) GOP for five years and muscled his way into contention for his party’s shot at the senate seat in arguably the most competitive LD1 cycle since Van Drew defeated Asselta, stampeded by shadowy attacks from a Democratic Party PAC and the seemingly constant push back to his candidacy by Andrzejczak’s visible campaign allies, assailed by the most powerful Democratic Party machine in New Jersey and up against a legitimate war hero, Testa appears to be aggressively in his natural element. In a picture on the wall of him with his family when he was a child, probably no more than ten, he’s smiling at the camera like someone awaiting the kick start of a political career.

The smile appears just as easily now, just as readily as the argument against his opponents.

“Ever since the arrival of the Van Drew and his team, we’ve seen a lot of empty promises,” said the GOP challenger. “When Van Drew was first elected he promised the completion of Route 55.”

It never happened, the challenger said.

The unfinished billion dollar project pins the residents of Cape May Court House without an escape route in the event of a natural disaster.

For the record, Andrzejczak in May quizzed Department of Transportation (DOT) Commissioner Diane

In May, Senator Robert Andrzejczak questioned DOT Commissioner Diane Gutierrez-Scaccetti.
In May, Senator Robert Andrzejczak questioned DOT Commissioner Diane Gutierrez-Scaccetti.

Gutierrez-Scaccetti on the Cape May County highway improvement question, specifically regarding the state’s response to 347.

“One of the most dangerous roadways in the state,” the senator said. “What is the department doing to alleviate traffic on 347?”

“I’m not familiar with fatality issues on that roadway,” the DOT commissioner said.

“We go from a major highway into a back country road,” Andrzejczak said.

DOT Commissioner Diane Gutierrez-Scaccetti engaged by Senator Robert Andrzejczak (D-1).
DOT Commissioner Diane Gutierrez-Scaccetti engaged by Senator Robert Andrzejczak (D-1).

“Fifty-five [55] is a very difficult project, several hundred millions of dollars in an environmentally sensitive area,” Gutierrez-Scaccetti said.

A visibly frustrated Andzejczak responded in conclusion, “I might be leaving here with no answers today but thank you for taking your time.”

But Testa sees South Jersey Democrats as Murphy enablers who now want to back away from the neophyte governor.

They can’t have it both ways, the Republican said.

In a conversation about how he and his opponent differ on policy, he happily lumps his self-professed conservative opponent in with the ferociously progressive Murphy and his administration.

“We have a sanctuary state under Phil Murphy,” he said. “It’s high time in New Jersey we had a proud conservative Republican; like him – and his two seaside running mates, Lower Township Mayor Erik Simonsen and Ocean City Councilman Antwan McClellan.

“We all share the same exact values,” the senate candidate affirmed.

“Citizenship should certainly have its privileges,” he added. But “the Democrat Party, in their attempt to have 100% control,” have renounced their constitutional obligation to enforce

But the Democratic incumbents also oppose driver’s licenses for undocumented workers.

It’s not good enough, the Republican argues, tired of his rivals aping Republicans with D’s next to their names.

Sen. Bob Menendez, right, looks at Republican Bob Hugin, (AP Photo/Julio Cortez, Pool)

“They’re not disavowing their party’s ultra leftist progressive agenda coming out of Trenton, or the massive amount of money from the General Majority PAC,” protested Testa.

The Democrat would – and does – say, in fact, that he does reject the left in his own party, and does routinely.

But Testa says Andrzejczak’s party baggage encumbers the senator in a more damaging way – in the Republican-leaning LD1 – than the worst excesses of his own party.

His opponent’s allies attacked him for receiving money from fellow Republican Bob Hugin, who last year lost statewide by double digits to corruption indictment-surviving incumbent Democratic Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ).

“I’ll take Bob Hugin over Bob Menendez any day,” Testa said. “Bob Hugin won this district by 16 points.

“Donald Trump won the district by nine points,” he added.

He lingered on Trump.

“We haven’t heard him [Andrzejczak] oppose the impeachment inquiry – Van Drew sort of.

Attorney Mike Testa making his Republican LD1 case in the Vineland law office founded by Judge Frank J. Testa.
Attorney Mike Testa making his Republican LD1 case in the Vineland law office founded by Judge Frank J. Testa.

“I would be surprised if Van Drew didn’t get primaried because of it,” Testa added with a devilish grin.

But in the meantime, the Democrats’ impeachment efforts will backfire enough to help Testa on November 5th in the 1st District, he argues. “I absolutely think this is going to charge the batteries of the silent majority here,” he said.

But that picture on the wall, of his father and Kean, Sr.

Isn’t it far removed from the nativism and volatility of Trump?

Isn’t it too removed?

“I happen to love Governor Tom Kean – and Tom Kean, Jr. as well. ‘Perfect Together.’ Was there ever a better slogan for New Jersey,” admitted the candidate. “I certainly want to emulate Tom Kean, but when the gauntlet is laid down by the General Majority PAC with a racist mailer, it’s difficult to be genteel.”

Connected to Norcross and the businesses he and his network received as a consequence of the tax incentives signed off on by Sweeney and establishment Democrats (and Christie), the PAC’s presence alone on the LD1 landscape should send voters galloping in his direction, he insisted. “When you think about the corporate welfare millions to these companies – none of this money trickled down to some little person in Camden,” said Testa. “A glossy picture is hiding the ugliness of Camden on the back of the taxpayer. It’s cronyism at its worst.”

The PAC unleashed a mailer that features a photo of his running mate McClellan.

“There is no doubt in my mind that mailer is vile, disgusting, and racist. Those are Oliver’s, Murphy’s and Currie’s words, not mine. My running mate, Antwan McClellan, was the target. But even the photo of me trying to stuff cash in my pocket – what were they trying to invoke? Something anti-Italian and anti Semitic [his mother is Jewish].

Two-thirds of the LD1 Republican Team: Testa, right, and McClellan.
Two-thirds of the LD1 Republican Team: Testa, right, and McClellan.

“I was offended by it,” Testa added. “I call balls and strikes. I can only imagine the uproar that would have occurred had Antwan McClellan been a Democrat and that mailer come from a Republican. It would have been on every major news network in the country, people crying, and my opponent won’t even renounce it.”

But as long as he relies on Murphy as a moral authority in a district where both he and his opponent are running away from the governor, isn’t he playing into their hands?

“They voted 95% or better with Governor Murphy,” said the Republican. “My opponent voted for a budget that took millions away from our veterans and put it toward illegal aliens getting a legal defense fund.”

But the Democratic senator also opposed the millionaire’s tax the Democratic governor craved.

Again, Testa said the party is at war with itself, with his opponents, for all the military honors, terrified to bite the General Majority PAC that feeds them, hardly the picture of principled leadership.

Still, Andzejczak calls himself independent.

“People can fall for that and they will get the government they deserve,” Testa said. “These guys – they don’t have to raise money organically. They just campaign and the money magically appears from the General Majority PAC. If they’re so independent, let them renounce the General Majority PAC.

“And see what happens to their campaign,” he added.

Andzejczak’s a war hero, though, InsiderNJ pointed out, in a district that prizes military service.

“I thank Bob for his service, darn near the ultimate sacrifice for our country, but it doesn’t mean he’s best served to serve us in Trenton,” the Republican said.

He doesn’t find him to be a difficult opponent.

He’s not intimidated, the Republican says.

“The veil has been lifted. The voters know. They think Bob is a very nice guy, but the issues aren’t being tackled properly in Trenton,” Testa said. “Cape May sends $55o million to Trenton in tourism dollars and gets back $1 million, compared to Essex County, which send $4 million and gets six million back. That is a despicable disparity. Then you see Sweeney and Bob on – no, under – the boardwalk, talking about raiding the transportation trust fund, our gas tax dollars, to pay for the Wildwood boardwalk, and Bob said he was furious – furious – with the governor over Murphy’s $4 million veto. People are waking to the issues.”

Ocean City Councilman Antwan McClellan.
Ocean City Councilman Antwan McClellan.

McClellan was in the room (full interview viewable below).

He said he hated the mailer the General Majority PAC ran against him.

But he trusts the voters will hate it more.

“My initial response was disappointment,” said the councilman, on the local governing body in Ocean City since 2012. “If you’re in touch with your constituents and you know what’s going on in your district to make light of something that happened to someone, it is what it is. If you’re running as an incumbent, you should have successes. You should be running on your record. You should be running on your character. It’s pretty much made a whole bunch of people irate. If you want people to vote for you, you don’t kill somebody’s character. I think it’s out of touch.

“The reaction I’m getting is people are appalled,” McClellan added. “They’re more upset than I am .They want to hear about what you’re going to do to help. They don’t want to browbeat somebody.”

All of it seemed tremendously coherent in the context of the district, which again, went handily for Trump in 2016.

Then a day after Testa made his case for standing with the Republican President, Trump threw a wrench into the engine when he tweeted his gratitude to Democrat Van Drew, whose team, remember, has lawn signs all over the district reminding voters of the former senator now in D.C. who installed his protege, Andrzejczak, in the LD1 senate seat.

The Biggest Senate Race in LD1 Since 2007 (or was until Sunday?)

Statewide men loom over the district, among them obviously Norcross, whose congressman brother Donald – occupant of a safe general election district and a week removed from burnishing the support of the Congressional Caucus PAC ahead of 2020, to cover himself in the event of a primary – issued a statement backing Pelosi’s decision to impeach the president.

But 2020 battleground occupant Van Drew, again whose 2019 team is the recipient of the General Majority PAC’s generous donations, outright opposed impeachment, one of just twelve members in the House.

“If something else comes up that is really clear high crimes and misdemeanors it will be so bad the majority of times you are going to have bipartisan support,” said the Democrat.

The individuals in LD1’s towns and counties have their own agendas, and see their own opportunities created in part by the flashpoint of the senate contest.

Cape May Democratic Chairman Sciarra sees a shot – a real shot at snagging a pair of seats on the Cape May Freeholder Board in his Republican-run county, home to Andrzejczak. And the GOP craves a chance in Democratic-run Cumberland to put a dent in Sweeney by displacing his former running mate, former Assemblywoman Celeste Riley, now running for reelection as county clerk. Relishing the chance to walk to work rather than drive back and forth to Trenton, Riley won the clerkship in 2014 with a two-percentage point win over longtime Republican incumbent Gloria Noto. Now in search of a second five-year term, Riley must stare down Victoria Lods, former chief of staff to Senator Asselta, who’s running hard on the GOP ticket in the Cumberland County portion of the 1st District with Testa.

The ever political Asselta’s involved.

He wants to see Lods – and Testa – win.

“Rob Andrzejczak has always had his nose wiped by Van Drew,” said the Republican senator displaced by Van Drew in the 2007 election. “If the voters like the status quo, then vote for that guy. But being a legislator is about being an advocate. I know. Mike Testa is an advocate. He will not stop talking when he gets to Trenton until he gets what he wants for a district that is under-served. Andrzejczak is a quiet guy, and that is not advocacy.”

There is some mild behind-the-scenes breast beating among Republicans who fear low voter turnout in an off year election will favor the connective tissues of Camden and give Democrats an edge, particularly in Cumberland. Fraught with off-the-record observations from injured egos who wanted a champion for their own candidacies rather than a chair transformed into a candidate, the road from party chairman to state senate candidate (again, Testa chairs the Cumberland GOP) is sometimes not an easy one. Just ask Bergen County’s Paul DiGaetano. But sometimes it works (Senator Vin Gopal of Monmouth County). The money factor may prove overwhelming on behalf of Andrzejczak, whose PAC edge already has him on Fox News television ads, infuriating to the GOP. But Testa believes he continues to run a very aggressive social media campaign and has the requisite energy and backbone, coupled with General Majority PAC missteps and the EDA scandal, to hit the region at the right time, with the right rage against the machine message.

After beating the Trump-loving Grossman, Van Drew reached out to President Trump on the floor of the House ahead of Trump's state of the Union speech.
After beating the Trump-loving Grossman, Van Drew reached out to President Trump on the floor of the House ahead of Trump’s state of the Union speech.

It won’t happen, argues Van Drew, who beat Asselta, who believes in his friend.

“Bob Andrzejczak is of the best men I have ever known in my life,” said the conservative Democratic  Congressman. “This is an individual truly willing to sacrifice for those around him. We know the Bob Andrzejczak story but it’s worth repeating. This is a man who enlisted in the army because he was so spiritually and mentally touched by 9/11. He really wanted to give something to his country. Number one, he’s a patriot. He loves this country. He loves South Jersey. He’s a straight shooter, not a politician. He’s a good speaker who learned a tremendous amount in the time he spent with me.

Encumbering Testa, and adding to evidence of LD’s national radar screen implications, Trump Sunday tweeted a thank you at Van Drew, who does not support Pelosi’s call for an impeachment inquiry. “This,” said a mind-bogggled NJ insider, “is the culmination of support by Jersey establishment.”

“It’s not me wiping his nose, but a partner,” Van Drew added. “He made himself in the military, for God’s sake, he gave up his leg. All I know is he made the decision, crawling on the ground, to save his platoon, to save men who were in far better shape than he was. He worked to fund the Wildwood boardwalk; unfortunately, he was vetoed by the governor because it’s a north-south thing. He worked with me on the developmental center in Vineland. He understands what leadership is about, and he also understands what BS is about.

“He’s a soldier, that’s why I personally asked Bob to run,” Van Drew said. “My whole team is a special group, two of them heroes – one in Vietnam one in Iraq, and the third [Milam] is someone I met when he was giving money to the YMCA for people to get better activities. These are not your typical politicians. They are men with unique and exceptional stories, whose stories in elected office will continue.”

Trump too loomed over LD1, Testa’s vigorous attempts to prove GOP loyalty turned to dust, Van Drew might say, on the heels of a tweet.

The negative mail rolls in with the tide, undoing a little the noblest efforts of the individuals on the ground, but, bearing an echo perhaps of the words of phlegmatic state Senator Nick Sacco (D-32) from North Jersey, who once said, “Negative mail works.”

The contradictions persist.

Educated with the finest care and attention, Testa hopes he penetrates with argument. The law books in his grandfather’s library contain the deep and well-considered reasoning no PAC could grasp, or mean soundbite compete with, if the arena were profound; even as the highly focused Republican finds himself willingly tethered to a twittering Trump far from the Garden State of Governor Kean, while Trump tweets “thank you” to an ever onward Trumpward-stepping Van Drew.

Sassafras fields stretch to the ocean.

Motorcycles from hell tear through the woods and down to the boardwalk.

The civilian clash goes on in LD1, and with it the mutual reinforced opposition by both sides, Democrat and Republican, to driver’s licenses for poverty-stricken fruit and vegetable pickers in the surrounding rows of asparagus and peppers. With a month and change to go, Andrzejczak, the tomato harvester turned soldier turned lawmaker prepared for another event in his rural home district, this one on Monday, as a warlike contest intensifies, amid the ongoing diminishing population of monarch butterflies, their numbers declining by 90% over the past 20 years, among the outer coastal plain flowers, which produce fruit or seed, or die, without pollinators.

Downtown Vineland.
Downtown Vineland.

 

 

 

 

 

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