Van Drew fends off challenge from Kennedy after party switch

Van Drew fends off challenge from Kennedy after party switch
© Greg Nash

Rep. Jefferson Van Drew (R-N.J.) was projected to win reelection on Friday for a second term representing a swing district after switching from the Democratic Party to the GOP last year over President TrumpDonald TrumpOhio Republican who voted to impeach Trump says he won't seek reelection Youngkin breaks with Trump on whether Democrats will cheat in the Virginia governor's race Trump endorses challenger in Michigan AG race MORE’s impeachment.

The Associated Press called the race at 12:10 p.m. EST.

Van Drew fended off a challenge from Democrat Amy Kennedy in one of the most competitive House races this election cycle.

ADVERTISEMENT

Van Drew had flipped the southern New Jersey district, which includes Atlantic City, to the Democratic column in 2018 after a longtime GOP incumbent retired. Trump carried the district by nearly 5 points in 2016. 

Van Drew largely voted the party line while caucusing with the Democrats, including on bills like raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour, requiring background checks for gun sales and blocking Trump from withdrawing from the Paris climate agreement. He also backed a resolution last year that condemned Trump’s attacks on four progressive congresswomen as racist.

But Van Drew shocked the political world in December when he decided to switch to the GOP.

Since then, he has embraced Trump and defended his response to the coronavirus pandemic.  

Van Drew pledged in an Oval Office event announcing his party switch that Trump had his “undying support.” 

ADVERTISEMENT

“I believe that this is just a better fit for me. This is who I am. It’s who I always was but there was more tolerance of moderate Democrats, Blue Dog Democrats or conservative Democrats. And I think that’s gone away,” Van Drew said at the time.  

Van Drew had voted as a Democrat just one day earlier while opposing both articles of impeachment against Trump over his efforts to pressure the Ukrainian government to launch an investigation into former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenTrump endorses challenger in Michigan AG race On The Money: Democrats get to the hard part Health Care — GOP attorneys general warn of legal battle over Biden's vaccine mandate MORE, who went on to become the Democratic presidential nominee.

But it was increasingly clear at the time that Van Drew was defecting to the other side, even though he hadn’t made it official yet. Van Drew sat with Republicans on the House floor during the impeachment votes. 

Only two other lawmakers caucusing with Democrats voted against at least one of the impeachment articles. Rep. Collin PetersonCollin Clark Peterson Progressives fight for leverage amid ever-slimming majority Six ways to visualize a divided America On The Trail: The political losers of 2020 MORE (Minn.), a centrist who represents a district that Trump carried by 30 points in 2016, voted against both articles of impeachment alleging abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. Rep. Jared Golden (Maine) voted against the article of impeachment alleging obstruction of Congress but endorsed the other article accusing Trump of abuse of power. 

Kennedy serves as education director of the Kennedy Forum, a mental health advocacy group founded by her husband, former Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.). 

“Too many of our leaders have lost their moral compass. Trump and Van Drew are symptoms of a bigger sickness infecting our country and our politics,” Kennedy said while announcing her campaign to challenge Van Drew.

Kennedy’s loss means that there won’t be a member of the famed political dynasty in the House Democratic caucus. Rep. Joe KennedyJoseph (Joe) Patrick KennedySupreme Court confounding its partisan critics Warren says she'll run for reelection to Senate Five centrist Democrats oppose Pelosi for Speaker in tight vote MORE III (D-Mass.), who was considered a rising star in the Democratic Party, lost a Massachusetts Senate primary earlier this year to Sen. Ed MarkeyEd MarkeyOvernight Energy & Environment — Presented by Climate Power — Senate Democrats ding Biden energy proposal Six Democrats blast Energy Department's uranium reserve pitch Facebook draws lawmaker scrutiny over Instagram's impact on teens MORE (D-Mass.).

Before winning election to the House, Van Drew was a dentist and served in the New Jersey state Senate for 16 years.