At opposite ends of the state last December, activists ignored the cold weather and rallied in Glen Rock and Mays Landing, demanding that their local Democratic congressmen support impeaching Donald Trump.
Josh Gottheimer did just that.
Jeff Van Drew did not. And then he ratcheted up the political intrigue by leaving the Democratic party and becoming a Republican.
With Nov. 3 now less than six weeks away, those two rallies and the issue they represented are an intriguing backdrop to House races in CD-2 and 5.
Up north in the mostly Bergen County Fifth district, Gottheimer had more than $8 million in campaign cash as of the last filing deadline and is seen by national handicappers as a good bet to win reelection.
Down south in Atlantic County and its environs, polls show Van Drew slightly behind Democrat Amy Kennedy in the Second District race.
As an overview, Van Drew and Gottheimer never seemed all that far apart in ideology. Both were considered conservative Democrats. And the districts – at least in terms of voter registration – are similar
District 5, which also covers at least parts of Passaic, Sussex and Warren counties, has 17,000 more registered Democrats than Republicans.
The Second District, which ranges over at least parts of eight southern New Jersey counties, has 20,000 more registered Dems than GOPers.
Nonetheless, Trump carried both districts in 2016.
So, impeaching the president was no simple thing. And it was that issue that split the state’s two conservative Democrats.
Everybody knows how things played out. Trump was impeached by the Democratic-House, but was acquitted in the Republican Senate. For a remarkable event in American history, it almost seems forgotten about in light of the pandemic.
But life moves along – even during a pandemic. Gottheimer is being challenged by Frank Pallotta, a retired investment banker.
Is impeachment an issue in CD-5?
Probably, but more recently, Pallotta through his Facebook page has been stressing his support for police. This is a national Republican position, or if you wish to be snarky, a national Republican talking
The argument is simple – Democrats are not willing to do what’s necessary to curb some of the unrest we’ve seen in cities, most of which are run by Democrats.
A recent post accuses Gottheimer of backing a bill (HR-7120) to “defund” the police. This too is a GOP talking point, but as far as this bill is concerned, it’s not true. The bill says nothing about funding or defunding police departments, which, of course, is a local, not a federal, responsibility. A part of the bill would end immunity for police officers charged with wrongdoing in regard to federal litigation. The bill also ends the use of chokeholds, bans no-knock warrants. invests in law enforcement technology, creates a police misconduct registry and makes lynching a federal crime. Of course, this isn’t the first time the facts got lost in a campaign.
Gottheimer won the district by 15,000 votes in 2016, but by 41,000 in 2018.
Patrick Murray, who directs the Monmouth University poll, says he sees no outstanding reason why Pallotta is destined to do better in the district than John McCann did when he ran on the Republican ticket in 2018.
One reason, of course, is financing. Compared to Gottheimer’s gigantic warchest, Pallotta had less than $100,000 of cash on hand as of the last campaign filing deadline. He is having regular fundraisers, but that’s a lot of money to make up.
Now we move to CD-2, where impeachment most likely is an issue.
Where does that leave Van Drew?
That would be with the president.
Trump featured him at a January rally in Wildwood and Van Drew also had a speaking spot, albeit not in prime time, at the Republican convention.
He, too, is attacking Kennedy as someone who wants to defund the police. He calls her a “liberal elitist” to boot.
Two polls this week give Kennedy a 5-point lead. And one of them, Public Policy Polling, has Trump trailing Joe Biden in the district by four points.
Not surprisingly, the Kennedy camp sent out a release trumpeting the polls; the Van Drew campaign didn’t comment. Murray said he plans to poll the district himself.
There are many polls out there and it’s common for partisans to put the most faith in a poll that supports their position.
Back in 2018, Van Drew, running as a Democrat, won by about 20,000 votes. But with Van Drew now a Republican, that race would seem to be of little help in forecasting this one.
But one thing seems obvious – if Trump fails to carry CD-2, it’s going to be trouble for Van Drew. For good or for bad, Van Drew has hitched his future in Congress to the fortunes of Donald Trump.
That partnership was sealed on that December day in Mays Landing when then-Democrat Van Drew rejected calls for impeachment.