Van Drew-Kennedy race in NJ goes down to the wire

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VINELAND, N.J. — The battle between Democrat-turned-Republican Rep. Jeff Van Drew (N.J.) and Democrat Amy Kennedy to represent New Jersey’s 2nd Congressional District has become one of the most high-profile House races in the country, with the candidates in a dead heat in the final stretch ahead of Election Day. 

Van Drew is polling within the margin of error of Kennedy — a former public school teacher and wife of former Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.) —  according to a survey released Friday by Stockton University that shows Kennedy leading by one point.

Both candidates have ramped up get out the vote efforts, making socially distanced campaign stops in an attempt to sway undecided voters. 

Van Drew — who flipped the seat from red to blue during the Democratic wave in 2018 — was thrust into the national spotlight after he opted to switch parties after voting against impeachment earlier this year. The switch in party affiliation has made Van Drew a top target for Democrats, who are looking to take back the swing seat they thought they secured during the midterm election cycle.  

While Trump won the district by just under five points in 2016, former President Barack Obama (D) prevailed in the South Jersey district in both 2008 and 2012, leading both parties to express confidence that the top of the ticket will help them down-ballot on Tuesday.  One Democratic operative said they see the sizable number of ballots cast ahead of Nov. 3 in conjunction with the polling numbers as an encouraging sign, but noted an influx of Republicans dropping off their ballots on Election Day is a possibility.  

Democrats have looked to capitalize on the New Jersey Republican’s party switch, tying him to the president and releasing ads accusing Van Drew of turning his back on the people that voted him into office. Kennedy said she thinks Van Drew’s decision to change hasn’t resonated well with undecided voters. 

“I don’t have to make up a false narrative — people saw his party switch and, his remarks that day and every day since and they’re able to see that it was really a self-serving, kind of opportunistic move,” she told The Hill in an interview during a campaign event on Sunday.  

“And so in that case, I feel like I just really have to introduce myself to voters and make sure that they know that I’m willing to fight hard and let them decide.”

Republicans have dismissed the idea that Van Drew’s party change  and embrace of Trump is a problem, saying Van Drew felt the need to leave a party moving too far to the left. 

The GOP has repeatedly showcased Van Drew — who appeared with Trump at a rally in Wildwood, N.J., shortly after he announcing his party change. He spoke at the Republican National Convention where he discussed his decision to become a Republican. 

One senior GOP operative said they feel good about their internal polling on the race, and say Van Drew’s unique brand could help him in the district. 

The district was previously represented for decades by GOP Rep. Frank LoBiondo.

“Ultimately you know this has long been a cult of personality district with Lobo and, and frankly with Van Drew in the state Senate. I think there’s a question of whether that will continue that way or if it sort of goes in a more partisan direction,” one senior GOP strategist said. 

“… Our sense was earlier in the summer it was looking like a much harder haul for us, and that was before any sort of negative definition on Amy Kennedy, we’ve been able to raise her negatives pretty substantially,” 

As the race has grown more heated, spending has increased with candidates, parties and outside groups spending heavily in the district. Van Drew has spent $3,028,402 to Kennedy’s $4,085,926 with outside groups have spent more than $12 million on the race as of Oct. 14, according to Open Secrets. 

While Democrats have hit Van Drew for his party switch and embrace of Trump, Republicans have attempted to paint Kennedy, the wife of former Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.), as a liberal extremist, with the House GOP’s campaign arm and the Congressional Leadership fund linking her with policies embraced by the far-left flank of the party like the Green New Deal and defunding the police. 

“Amy Kennedy’s radical embrace of criminals, comments on defunding the police and promise to raise taxes has left her unelectable in South Jersey,” NRCC Spokesman Michael McAdams said in a statement. 

But Kennedy said she doesn’t think the strategy will ultimately be effective. 

“You know, their campaign against me has been so over the top and people can see through that, because it really wasn’t specific to my race or to me as a candidate, it felt like it was just playing into people’s fears nationally,” she told The Hill. 

“And in that way, I don’t know that it’ll be really effective because, you know, they weren’t able to address the concerns of people in South Jersey, it was just kind of a generic smear.”



Tags amy kennedy Barack Obama Frank LoBiondo House battle Impeachment Jeff Van Drew New Jersey

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