Van Drew versus Kennedy, NJ’s Marquee Congressional Matchup

Kennedy and Van Drew

Election Day is Nov 3. Absentee Ballots start going out Oct 5

(Cherry Hill) –This morning’s slightly chilly, autumnal vibe reminds us all that Election Day, Nov 3, is rapidly approaching. Fifty-six days to be exact.

Not that we need any reminding.

Most crucially, Americans will render a verdict on President Donald Trump’s tenure thus far. Will there be 4 more years of that? Or does Joe Biden, the former VP, prevail?

In NJ, all 12 Congressional spots are up for grabs. NJ’s (southernmost) 2nd district is perhaps the most intriguing duel pitting Jeff Van Drew, ex-democrat turned Trump loyalist, against Amy Kennedy, a former teacher who married into America’s most gilded political dynasty.

Micah Rasmussen runs the Rebovich Institute for NJ Politics at Rider University.

“This is the race we’re all going to be watching most closely on Election Night,” Mr Rasmussen told InsiderNJ. “Jeff has essentially turned in his incumbency badge by flipping parties. So all bets are off, and I do think it has the potential to be a close race. Barring some unforeseen surprise, it’s shaping up to be the biggest question mark in the state this year.”

Patrick Murray directs the Monmouth University Polling Institute.

“There have been a number of polls,” Mr Murray told InsiderNJ. “But they’ve all been done by partisan groups and those groups have not released all those interesting results from those polls beyond the first question. So the polling has been done out there, I just don’t know what it says.”

(Get to know NJ’s sprawling 2nd Congressional District here!)

“Donald Trump won the district by about four points four years ago so it’s going to be close,” Mr Murray added. “But we don’t know in CD2 what roll Van Drew’s party switch will play, whether Republican voters are still suspicious of him despite his appearance at the RNC.”

In addition to the RNC speaking slot, Jeff Van Drew was fêted by Trump at the White House following Van Drew’s defection last December. Weeks later, Trump further rewarded Van Drew’s fealty with a boardwalk rally in Wildwood that, in retrospect, fired up both sides.

Sue Altman, state director for NJ Working Families, organized a counter-protest/rally.

“This is what democracy looks like,” Ms Altman said at the time.”Because democracy means we get out on a cold January night to come to the Jersey shore! We come because we believe that this country that the state that this planet deserve better than what is in the White House right now!”

The crowd roared.

Ms Altman’s liberal anti-machine crew propelled Ms Kennedy from relative  obscurity and onto a resounding democratic primary victory.

“Amy Kennedy ran a smart primary campaign,” Rider U’s Rasmussen added.  “It was folksy and personal, with a whiff of Kennedy nostalgia for those Democrats who were eager for it. It was an extension of her own family. I think the strength of her win surprised a lot of people, including me.”

Mr Rasmussen, who ran some of Van Drew’s early campaign, also noted his former boss’ prowess on the trail.

“Jeff really is one of the best retail politicians you’ll ever find,” Mr Rasmussen told InsiderNJ. “He has always forged a strong connection with voters. He takes it very seriously, and he works it hard. The only question is how much local matters in our nationalized environment.”

And how much will that matter in the COVID era?

“I really think it boils down to Trump-Biden,” Mr Rasmussen predicted. “An even presidential race may or may not be enough to take out Van Drew, but it will certainly have him sweating it.”

Mr Murray, the pollster, predicts it might come down to whose base wants it more.

“It’s a matter of turning them out,” Mr Murray said, noting that moderation, once the calling card in swing districts, has become passé.

“Remember, years ago, when Van Drew was first encouraged to run against (longtime GOP incumbent Frank) LoBiondo?  The idea was it took (a democrat) on the conservative side to oust a sitting incumbent republican who has the backing of organized labor,” Mr Murray observed. “That seems to be blown out of the water right now. Amy Kennedy’s huge win in the primary is a suggestion that this could be an entirely different dynamic down there and it’s not a matter of winning over moderate voters who could swing either way. It might be a matter of voters in both sides again on what they believe.”


Jay Lassiter is an award-winning writer, podcaster, and videographer. He endorsed neither Jeff Van Drew not Amy Kennedy and no one cared. 

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