3 Democrats are running to challenge Congressman Jeff Van Drew, who became Republican after impeachment vote

Several Democrats are facing off in a contentious primary in New Jersey’s second congressional district to run against Congressman Jeff Van Drew in November. Van Drew was elected in 2018 to represent the south Jersey district as a Democrat, but switched parties in late 2019 after voting against impeachment and has pledged his “undying loyalty” for President Trump. 

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy has endorsed Amy Kennedy, a mental health advocate and educator who is married to former Congressman Patrick Kennedy, a son of the late Senator Ted Kennedy. Kennedy also has the support of the Atlantic County Democratic Party, the largest county in the district.

The other leading candidate in the primary is Brigid Callahan Harrison, a political science professor who has the support of both of two of Murphy’s political rivals, state Senate president Steven Sweeney and local Democratic powerbroker George Norcross. Harrison has also been endorsed by the state’s two U.S. senators, Cory Booker and Bob Menendez, who are both Democrats. Will Cunningham, who lost to Van Drew in the 2018 Democratic primary, is also running.

Kennedy has looked to portray herself as the grassroots candidate, painting Harrison as propped up by the South Jersey Democratic “machine” and Norcross, who helped Van Drew flip the district in 2018. “The same New Jersey machine that sent Van Drew to Congress as a ‘Democrat’ doesn’t want Amy to win this race,” a fundraising email from the campaign read.

Harrison has criticized the actions of Kennedy’s husband, Patrick, who funneled $500,000 into a super PAC to attack Harrison. She’s also gone after Kennedy’s contributions from Wellpath, a health care company that works with for-profit prisons. 

“I will ask for Amy to answer why she has accepted $11,000 in campaign contributions from this company known for its corrupt pay-to-play policies that victimize black and brown people, including people in for-profit prisons and ice detention centers,” Harrison said during a June debate. 

Harrison entered the race the week Van Drew announced his defection on impeachment, and aimed to challenge him in a primary even before he switched parties. Kennedy, Harrison and Cunningham have all criticized Van Drew’s party switch, with Harrison calling him a “traitor” and Kennedy saying he “betrayed” the South Jersey district. 

Van Drew himself is facing a challenge from the right from Robert Patterson, who worked in the Social Security Administration earlier in Mr. Trump’s term. Van Drew has been endorsed by Mr. Trump, who appeared in a rally in New Jersey with Van Drew earlier this year, but Patterson argues that he is the more conservative candidate. In a January op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, Patterson criticized Van Drew for his previous support for Planned Parenthood.

Elsewhere in New Jersey, Congressman Josh Gottheimer, the co-chairman of the bipartisan House Problem Solvers Caucus, is facing a challenge from the left with local Councilwoman Arati Kreibich. Kreibich has the support of progressives like Senator Bernie Sanders and Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley, but Gottheimer has been endorsed by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, as well as Representatives Hakeem Jeffries of New York and Mikie Sherrill of New Jersey.

The primary on Tuesday will be conducted mainly through absentee ballot, in a test of remote voting ahead of the November election. The campaigns said it was unlikely that races would have final calls on Tuesday night. The primary was already delayed a month due to the coronavirus pandemic.

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