The Conservative Democrats have attempted to appeal to Republican voters in the district by supporting a conservative agenda and were met with a stinging rebuke by Democrats and a decisive defeat by Republicans.
By David Todd McCarty | Wednesday, November 6, 2019
It was not a good night for South Jersey Democrats overall, with the top of their ticket Bob Andrzejczak losing his State Senate seat to Republican challenger Mike Testa by seven points, and both Democratic Assemblymen, Bruce Land and Matt Milam losing their seats to Republicans Erik Simonsen and Antwan McClellan in tight races. It was, as one observer put it, a shellacking.
But the real influencers in this election weren’t even on the ballot. President Donald Trump and Democratic Congressman Jeff Van Drew (CD-2), became key figures in this election due to Trump’s ongoing impeachment inquiry and Van Drew’s refusal to admit that the President did anything wrong and does not deserve impeachment.
Republicans have been defiant, refusing to acknowledge that what everyone has seen and heard, really happened, and even if it did happen, it wasn’t illegal and therefore not an impeachable offense. Conservative news outlets such as Fox News have been largely dismissive or even silent on the topic of impeachment, so Republican voters don’t see it as a key issue.
The loss brings into question whether Van Drew has critically damaged whatever support he may have once held in South Jersey politics, by publicly denouncing the impeachment inquiry, something the Democratic base deems critical. Van Drew has long presented himself as a moderate Democrat who ran a conservative campaign that would appeal to a bipartisan electorate, especially when he was in a predominantly Republican district.
But when Van Drew jumped up to national politics after he won retiring Congressman Frank LoBiondo’s seat in 2017, he also moved from the relative safety of his more conservative legislative district, to a congressional district that is far more competitive and in fact contains more registered Democrats than Republicans. His political calculations seemed to be that supporting Trump was going to be a winning strategy because the attack from the Right if he didn’t, would be too much to handle. His team followed his lead, even to the point when Andrzejczak told a reporter that he would definitely not vote for Sanders or Warren should they become the Democratic nominee, but that he hadn’t ruled out voting for Donald Trump. Land and Milam mostly stayed silent and avoided votes that would have required them to answer questions about their voting record.
Team Van Drew as they like to call themselves paid a significant price for the calculations of their leader, and lost their seats to Republicans who openly support Trump. They lost in large part because Democrats refused to support the candidates. The district, with registered Republicans outnumbering Democrats nearly 2:1, had been dominated by Van Drew and his team for the last decade, historically counting on a reliable Democratic base, and convincing enough moderate Independent voters to put them over the top. They made the calculation that the Republican voters were more important than the Democratic voters and they lost both in significant enough numbers to lose the race.
Democratic voters became disenchanted with candidates they no longer believed reflected their values and either stayed home or voted for write-in candidates, and Republicans figured they might as well just vote for a Trump supporter from their own party.
Criticism of Van Drew within progressive Democratic circles has been growing for years, but since his refusal to even consider an inquiry into Donald Trump’s abuses, the cries for his removal have reached a fever pitch. There was a time when Democrats were mainly attempting to influence him with calls and emails displaying their displeasure with his votes on important issues. But now they simply want him removed from office. So much so, that a group of Progressives organized a last minute write-in campaign with the sole purpose of causing the Democratic incumbents to lose.
There isn’t much evidence that the write-in campaign had a direct effect on the results since the margin of victory appears to be beyond that of votes cast by write-in ballots, but there was definitely a lot of word-of-mouth about the campaign and a lot of discussion about displeasure with the incumbents.
Local Progressive activist Angela Bardoe said, “Our publicizing their Trump support discouraged Dems from voting for them. Also, we think, Team Testa texted and robocalled Democrats about the write-in candidate campaign, which would also turn off voters. Team Testa worked their asses off whereas Team Van Drew were lazy, didn’t campaign and relied on cheesy, racist Norcross-funded mailers. They really didn’t deserve to win, write in campaign or not.”
There didn’t seem to be a lot of surprise coming from average Democrats concerning the losses.
“Maybe real Dems can’t win in the 1st District but at least we should have a choice, fight a good fight, and lose with self-respect,” said Penny Watson, a Democratic supporter,
Local Progressive activists are looking to challenge the Norcross political machine now that Team Van Drew appears to be on the ropes.
“His team is gone and he’s getting ready to hang in the wind during the public impeachment inquiry that begins next week in the House,” said one activist from the group. The Congressman is one of only two Democrats who voted against the inquiry. Not a single Republican broke ranks.
Van Drew is almost certain to be challenged in the Primary for the 2020 election and his base of support has dwindled. As one Progressive activist stated in the days before the election, “We’re coming for you.”
All eyes are on Washington and we will soon find out how tying yourself to President Trump’s combustible campaign will effect the 2nd Congressional District of New Jersey, and the rest of the country. But Van Drew has taken a big risk that cost his team and might end up costing him his seat.
Disclosure: David Todd McCarty is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of The Standard. He was also a write-in candidate for Assembly and a contributor to the political effort to unseat the incumbent Democrats.