The last chair standing in a congressional district that includes pieces of eight counties, Ocean County Democratic Chairman Wyatt Earp this morning pulled the plug on awarding his organization’s endorsement to a candidate in the CD2 primary contest, opting to stay out of the fight.
“They knew the vote was not going to go for the party recommendation Brigid Harrison,” said Bob Stern, party municipal chair of Beach Haven. “The cancellation is designed to prevent Amy Kennedy from winning. These are completely self-defeating exercises. We go into November with a lot of Democrats unhappy with our own party.”
The last minute decision, which the chairman expressed in a phone call ahead of his noon-scheduled convention, reinforced Earp’s political position as a Building Trades-affiliated ally of the South Jersey Democratic Organization, which opposes Amy Kennedy and favors Montclair Political Science Professor Harrison in the primary of a district currently occupied by U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew (R-2).
In a Sunday morning message to the principals in the contest, Kathy Russell, secretary of the Ocean Dems, said in a formal email:
“In CD 2, due to issues raised by the Kennedy campaign and several committee members and to avoid potential litigation and division within our organization, the ‘Party Line’ will not be awarded to any congressional candidate in Congressional District 2.
The move caused those allies in the Kennedy camp to shake their heads in bewilderment, certain of their edge to secure the votes if the chair had allowed the vote to proceed as scheduled.
Kennedy herself responded with a quote:
“I would have been honored to have earned the support of the Ocean County Democrats this morning, but unfortunately the committee cancelled the vote,” said the CD2 Democrat.
“Yet again, party bosses have worked to take the decision about who represents the people of South Jersey away from them,” Kennedy added. “The only surprising thing is that they would be so brazen as to play games with the Democratic process in the middle of a pandemic, when so much is on the line. The good news is that South Jersey voters won’t stand for it. They’ll make their voices heard on June 2nd.”
Earp tipped his hand during the state chair’s race, when he went with the candidate orginally backed by the South Jersey Democratic Organization after originally leading the Phil Murphy-backed candidate that he would be on their side. In return, his vice chair, Marta Harrison, joined the ticket of the ultimately unsuccessful candidate.
The Harrison Campaign strongly disagreed with Kennedy’s assertion.
“As New Jerseyans and Americans face the most challenging struggle of our lifetimes, it is unthinkable that Amy Kennedy is making this claim and is putting herself before the health and safety of the people of New Jersey,” said Matthew Frankel, Harrison Campaign Spokesman. “Lets get real, the bottom line is that all of us thought we were going to win the Ocean line. We worked extremely hard and would have much preferred wining the line. While we are are not thrilled with the decision, the difference is that we will accept the decision of the Ocean County leaders simply because it is the right thing to do. This is a crisis situation. We are in unchartered territory, and frankly there is a hell of a lot right now that is far more important than divisive politics.”
On a conference call with municipal chairs, Earp defended an open CD2 primary.
“We’re Democrats in the end,” said the chairman “We are not the enemy.”