Just How Progressive Is South Jersey Really?

Just How Progressive Is South Jersey Really?

There are less than twenty days until the 2018 New Jersey Primary Election and it would appear that the only people paying attention are the ones running for office. There has been very little media coverage, or really even public interest, and while it’s true that we’re talking about primary in a midterm election year, here in South Jersey, we’re not just talking about the possibility of flipping a House seat from Red to Blue, but who might be put in that seat.

There are four Democratic candidates running for Republican Representative Frank LoBiondo’s House seat in New Jersey’s 2nd Congressional District, which he is vacating after announcing his retirement last year. 

State Senator Jeff Van Drew leads the pack with party Chair endorsements, campaign funding and overall name recognition, but is unpopular with party progressives who view the conservative Democrat as little more than a Republican wearing a Democrat’s suit.

While most Democrats in the district admit that they will vote for whichever Democrat wins the primary when it comes to the general election, the Left is definitely looking at this election as an opportunity to promote a much more progressive voice to lead South Jersey.

The question is, just how progressive is South Jersey really?

Before Frank LoBiondo announced his retirement, retired school teacher Tanzie Youngblood had decided to become part of the blue wave of candidates entering races all over the country. She said wanted to see change in South Jersey and figured if no one else was going to do it, she would. She launched a progressive campaign to challenge LoBiondo’s more conservative record, and railed against the idea that supporting Trump’s agenda was good for America. When LoBiondo announced his retirement, Youngblood’s main challenger became a Conservative Democrat, rather than a Moderate Republican.

There are two other Democratic candidates running for the seat in June. Will Cunningham, who worked as an aide for New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, and Nathan Kleinman, an activist and former aide to Congressmen Joe Sestak and Josh Shapiro.

Van Drew certainly has policy experience as a State Senator representing New Jersey’s 1st Legislative District since 2010. Both Cunningham and Kleinman have worked for congressmen and understand legislative policy. Youngblood is the only political novice in the race, but has been a vocal opponent of the State Senator.

From an issues standpoint, both Cunningham and Kleinman have detailed policy stances listed on their websites, while Youngblood’s is far more general in nature. Senator Van Drew lists no policy issues on his website, nor does he rely on his past voting record. All he has on his campaign website is a letter he used to announce his candidacy in 2017.

One issue that definitely divides the pack is the issue of guns. Jeff Van Drew has long been a strong advocate for gun rights and maintains an “A” rating from the NRA. All three of the other candidates are calling for tougher, common sense gun laws more in line with the Democratic Party’s national platform. Van Drew’s more conservative stance on a variety of issues have been problematic during the primary but are seen as a benefit when it comes taking on a Republican challenger in the general election come fall.

A report by Inside Elections, a nonpartisan organization that tracks political races, released yesterday, rated New Jersey’s 2nd District as “Tilting Democratic,” a change from April when they rated the district as a “Toss Up.”

This rating seems to be based largely on Van Drew being seen as a favorite to the win the seat in the fall. Van Drew came into the April with $456,028 cash on hand, compared to William Cunningham’s $40,905 and Tanzie Youngblood’s $14,102. Republican front-runner Hirsh Singh, who lost a bid for governor last year, reported $82,555 cash on hand after loaning his campaign $56,685. (Center For Responsive Politics)

An internal poll that Van Drew’s campaign released put him at 66% to Singh’s 33%, and there have been no published polls that detail how Van Drew is polling against Democrats in the primary.

Most professional political pundits continue to believe that Jeff Van Drew will not only win the primary handily in a few weeks, they believe he will ultimately win in the fall, flipping the politically critical House seat from Red to Blue for the first time in decades.

But as we saw in 2016, we’re in a new era of politics, and sometimes the experts get it wrong.

On June 5th, we’ll see who comes out to vote, and who they vote for. Until then, it’s all just speculation.

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