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One of 12 House Democrats opposed to the impeachment of President Donald J. Trump, U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew (D-2) has a history of working with an excitable, explosive executive in the opposing party to maintain his cool hold on political power in a maritime and agricultural district where the conservative Democrat broke a decades-long history of Republican control.
Trump yesterday tweeted his gratitude to Van Drew, who helped bequeath the senate seat he occupied from 2008-209 to his political protege, while continuing his own his calculated habit of engaging a Republican leader for his own – and his team’s – benefit at election time.
“I have long maintained the position that the impeachment or potential impeachment would not be good for Democrats or Republicans,” Van Drew said on Fox and Friends, prompting trump to respond.
Somewhere in Vineland, attorney Michael Testa, running as a Trump Republican against the legislative “Van Drew Team,” otherwise known as those 2019 party allies of the congressmen holding the region’s torch for him a year from the Democrat’s 2020 reelection bid.
“Van Drew knows his base and knows that the liberal policies of Nancy Pelosi and Phil Murphy do not represent South Jersey,” Testa said. “The matter of fact is, while Jeff Van Drew has been in Congress – Sgt. Bob Andrzejack has voted with Governor Murphy 95 percent of the time. Bob Andrzejack is no Jeff Van Drew.
But it had to hurt.
It had to frustrate.
It was reminiscent of that time in 2013 when another young Republican candidate running against the Van Drew Team found herself in a difficult space.
In a diner booth in downtown Cape May Court House, far from those brass bands accompanying the confident, pre-Bridgegate strides of Republican Governor Chris Christie, a very credible Republican contender for the senate in LD1 sat in a condition of de-oxygenated political anguish amid signs everywhere heralding “The Van Drew Team.”
This was surely a Republican year, with Christie’s Democratic opponent getting trampled by the incumbent GOP governor, but Susan Adelizzi-Schmidt, handpicked by senate Republican Leader Tom Kean, Jr. to complement the top of the ticket and future candidate for president, found herself on the opposite side of the state from Christie, who was strolling through the streets of heavily Democratic Essex and Hudson counties.
The fix certainly seemed to be in, but it wasn’t in for Adelizzi-Schmidt, challenger to state Senator Jeff Van Drew (D-1), a reliable cross-the-aisle “aye” vote for Christie’s budgets and most controversial agenda items; the conservative district presence routinely relied on by Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3) to haul nitroglycerin legislation into the endzone.
Now was the payoff.
Rather than bite the hands that fed him, including Sweeney’s and Van Drew’s, the governor would leave untouched those South Jersey-George Norcross-connected districts, even as the opportunistically friendly Kean, ever the loyal conventional GOP soldier, specifically recruited professional women candidates to blunt any potential for Christie’s general election rival, Barbara Buono, to galvanize a backlash among women against the aggressively Boardwalk-prowling Christie.
The insiders knew.
She hadn’t put her name on the line to fill a space, but to win, which looked altogether plausible with Christie crushing Buono and the Van Drew Team weakened by a meltdown earlier that year by their ticket mate, Assemblyman Nelson Albano, who was off the ticket. Two years prior to her candidacy, in 2011, an off-year in the Republican district, GOP candidate Dave DeWeese had held Van Drew to a single digit victory margin.
And yet, it already felt over in the early fall of 2013, weeks ahead of election day.
There were no sustained campaign signs featuring Christie and Adelizzi-Schmidt to breach the Van Drew Team blizzard. There was no cable ad buy with Christie and Adelizzi-Schmidt harvesting peppers or strolling along the boardwalk together in Wildwood.
On Election Day, Kean was short-circuited along with his senate candidate, and later blamed and publicly chastised by Christie – with Sweeney laughing uproariously in the background – for failing to pick up senate seats.
Kean would go on to have the last laugh, when his caucus expressed its disapproval of the governor’s sense of humor (and campaign strategy) by reinstating Kean as leader of the caucus in a move that symbolized the beginning of the end for Christie.
Country dentist by trade Van Drew, conversely, never flashy, never publicly aggressive or antagonistic, master practitioner of the concerned look that never gives in to anger, was really just hitting his political stride.
It looked too easy.
You, Democrat – Van Drew – you help my agenda, and I won’t run against you.
This was how it happened.
“I wish Van Drew would just change parties,” a progressive caucus mate of the senator’s told InsiderNJ at the time.
Women in key races – in both parties – took it hard on Election Day in New Jersey that year, as incumbent males protected themselves.
Accompanied by war hero Robert Andrzejczak as his replacement for Albano, Democrat Van Drew crushed Adelizzi-Schmidt district-wide, 59-39%; just as Republican Christie (campaigning with state Senator Brian P. Stack and Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo, both Democrats, in the north and leaving his Democratic allies to guard their flanks in the south) destroyed Buono statewide by almost exactly the same margin, 60-39%. The Kean-backed Niki Trunk inched a little closer to Sweeney in LD3, but the result was still the same, a 45-55% flattening.
Four years later, a year removed from his coming U.S. Congressional bid in 2018, and now with ferocious progressive Phil Murphy at the top of the Democratic ticket in LD1 and causing all kinds of agita to the senator’s allies as Murphy trumpeted higher taxes and sanctuary cities, Van Drew proved 2013 wasn’t a fluke when he expanded his margin of victory over Republican challenger Mary Gruccio for arguably the most satisfying win of his legislative career: 65-34%.
He did it by maintaining key positions in step with Christie and even occasionally to his right, and by working with him on legislation that both helped Sweeney (close to Norcross and PAC money) and Christie, who left him alone.
When he got to D.C. after his 2018 win, he could be seen reaching for Trump on the floor of the U.S. House during the president’s state of the union speech.
On the other side of the galvanized rage of New Jersey voters who turned Republican incumbents out of office, or helped put them on the run rather than face reelection with Trump stuck to them, among them U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R-2), the lawmaker Van Drew replaced, Van Drew was reaching out for Trump in a friendly gesture of goodwill.
And now, a month before his Van Drew Team in the Andrzejczak top-of-the-district-wide-ticket era must face Republican opposition without him, in this case a proud Trump Republican in Testa, Van Drew is backing in the president’s praise.
To understand him in part, one must go to his roots, which like the Democrat who drove fellow Democrats to despair as overtime he played his dutiful part to advance a Republican agenda, doesn’t fit the initial impression.
It was some time ago.
A local pol walked InsiderNJ around the neighborhood in Paterson and made an offhand reference to “Jeff.”
“Well, when Jeff lived here it was a little different.”
Must have been referring to Jeff Jones, who was mayor at the time.
But then the person referred to the mayor and “Jeff” in the same sentence, as distinguishable people.
“Wait a minute,” InsiderNJ protested. “Who’s Jeff?”
And met a stare of blank, what-kind-of-dumbbell-are-you incredulity.
“Jeff Van Drew,” the Patersonian finally deadpanned. “He went to Eastside High School.”
Initially made in such a throw away kind of way, and then asserted, almost with contempt for ignorance, as if anyone would know that a conservative state senator in the rural south of Jersey hailed from northern melting pot Paterson, the person left Insider marveling at the fact that in ten years of conversation with Van Drew, never did the lawmaker mention the Paterson connection.
One of New Jersey’s most buttoned down and organized politicians, in constant message-mode on the trail in what for some time in the early years were high octane competitive districts, presumably never saw a reason to invoke his North Jersey background as he barnstormed the crab and lobster houses in search of 1st District votes.
In the most surgical political terms, he pragmatically uses what is necessary and discards the rest.
It was like the year he first put Andrzejczak on the ticket.
Every time the Republicans tried to criticize him or the memory of Albano, they met with a steady stream of patriotism embodied by the young hero, the American serviceman, who lost his leg in Iraq and now saw fit to join The Van Drew Team.
“Trump has no idea who Van Drew is,” Monmouth University Pollster Patrick Murray told InsiderNJ, denying the likelihood of a calculated symbiosis, as Christie and Van Drew/Sweeney displayed in 2013 to deflate Adelizzi-Schmidt.
“This is someone who once called me a highly respected pollster,” Murray added with a laugh, suggesting that Trump’s political team (which includes former Christie minder Bill Stepien) likely has their heads in their hands while the boss plunges into a New Jersey district where Christie allies, in fact, raised money for Testa.
“What this is about,” the pollster insisted, “is Van Drew is really, really smart. He’ll know how to use this and get it out there in time for the 2019 [general] election to help The Van Drew Team.”
And to help himself, as he did in the Christie era, in time for 2020.
- Atlantic County Democrats
- Atlantic County GOP
- Barbara Buono
- Bill Stepien
- Bob Andrzejczak
- Brian Stack
- Cape May
- Cape May Court House
- Cape May Democrats
- Cape May GOP
- Chris Christie
- Dave DeWeese
- Donald J. Trump
- Frank LoBiondo
- George Norcross
- Jeff Jones
- Jeff Van Drew
- Joe DiVincenzo
- Mary Gruccio
- Michael Testa
- Mike Testa
- Monmouth University Poll
- Nelson Albano
- Niki Trunk
- Patrick Murray
- Steve Sweeney
- Susan Adelizzi-Schmidt
- Tom Kean
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