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Atlantic County Freeholder Ashley Bennett. Photo by Nikita Biryukov for the New Jersey Globe.

Bennett moves forward in congressional bid, precludes runs for freeholder, surrogate

Democrat will back Thelma Witherspoon for her freeholder seat

By David Wildstein, January 21 2020 10:07 pm

Ashley Bennett has ruled out running for re-election to the Atlantic County Board of Freeholders and is all-in for her bid to become the Democratic candidate for Congress in New Jersey’s 2nd district.

Bennett entered the race for the Democratic congressional nomination after Rep. Jeff Van Drew (R-Dennis) switched parties last month, but initially refused to rule out seeking re-election to a second term as freeholder.

That also means she’s eschewing a bid for any other office this year.

“I’m not running for surrogate,” Bennett said during a short interview with the New Jersey Globe, acknowledging reports that she was being recruited to run against Republican surrogate James Curcio.

Atlantic County Democrats have scheduled a convention to award organization lines on March 8.  The deadline to submit a letter of intent to be on the convention ballot is March 1.

Bennett says she will support former Atlantic City school board president Thelma Witherspoon to run for her District 3 freeholder seat.

“I’m excited for her,” Bennett said. “I will endorse and help as much as I can to get her over the finish line.”

Witherspoon ran for freeholder-at-large on the Democratic ticket with Bennett in 2017 and came within 892 votes of toppling GOP incumbent John Risley.

Bennett defeated John Carman by 537 votes three years ago after the GOP incumbent took heat for misogynistic remarks.

Democrats have still not selected a candidate for surrogate.

Bennett is also being recruited by Democrats to run for Atlantic County Surrogate, where incumbent James Curcio is seeking re-election.

Curcio ousted incumbent James Carney in 2010 by 1,123 votes and kept the job in a 2015 rematch with Carney by an 895-vote margin.

Six candidates are seeking the chance to take on Van Drew, but with two distinctly separate tiers.

At the top are Bennett, Brigid Callahan Harrison, and Amy Kennedy, a member of one of America’s most famous political families.

Brigid Callahan Harrison, a political science professor, has received endorsements from Democratic county chairmen in Cape May, Cumberland, Burlington, Camden, Gloucester and Salem counties.

Former public school teacher Amy Kennedy won the endorsement of the Callaway family-run Atlantic City Democratic organization on Monday evening.  That’s gives Kennedy a base of votes at the March 8 convention, but it likely came with an expensive price tag from an organization that’s isn’t bashful about asking for money.

West Cape May commissioner John Francis III, former congressional aide Will Cunningham and retired FBI agent Bob Turkavage are also in the race.

Cunningham, who worked for U.S. Senator Cory Booker and Rep. Elijah Cummings, ran against Van Drew in 2018 and finished third in the Democratic primary with 16% of the vote.

Turkavage is running as a Democrat after winning 7% in the 2018 Republican congressional primary.

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