In a letter to Democrats, 2nd district congressional candidate Brigid Callahan Harrison laid out the timeline she used to decide she would challenge Rep. Jeff Van Drew:
Dear Fellow Democrat,
Thank you for taking time from holiday preparations to read this message.
My name is Brigid Callahan Harrison. One week ago today, I announced my candidacy for Congress representing New Jersey’s second congressional district.
I wanted to introduce myself (or in some cases, reintroduce myself), tell you a little about what prompted my decision to run for Congress, and humbly ask for your support. Please bear with me while I walk you through my reasons for running, and why I hope I can earn your support.
For the past 20 years, in my role as a Political Science teacher and commentator, I have helped New Jerseyans understand the complex world of New Jersey politics through my appearances on NJTV and my commentary in The Press, columns on NJ.com and so on. I’ve criticized and commended politicians of all stripes, and understood that while we may disagree, everyone has a right to their opinion.
All that changed for me on October 31, 2019. On that day, our Congressman, Jeff Van Drew voted against the impeachment inquiry. That night, I couldn’t sleep. Nor could I the next. While I have disagreed with Jeff on many issues over the years, I have a cordial relationship with him, and was particularly gratified when he nominated my daughter to the U.S. Naval Academy last year.
But with his vote against the impeachment inquiry – a vote that sought to deny us our fundamental right to know whether President Trump had abused the power of his office by pressuring Ukraine to meddle in our elections – I lost all confidence in Van Drew.
I was certain then that the wrath of Democrats would meet Van Drew. And so I waited, expecting a prominent leader to speak out publicly – to hold Van Drew accountable.
To my surprise, no one stepped up, and on November 24th, I decided that I must lead the charge.
I published a column outlining all of the reasons – constitutionally and politically – that Van Drew was wrong on impeachment. It was my hope that he would read it – and change his mind. And that I would carry on with my life satisfied that I had played a role in convincing him to be on the right side of history.
Around that time, people started asking if I would run for Congress. For the first time, I seriously contemplated it, thinking that the threat of a primary challenge might compel Van Drew to do the right thing.
Instead he shamelessly doubled-down.
He went on FOX News comparing the congressional proceedings to a “third world nation.”
He announced to USA Today that he would vote against impeachment – even though all the evidence had not yet been heard.
It was also around this time that the idea that Van Drew would either drop out, change parties, or accept a position in the Trump cabinet started to circulate.
So at the League of Municipalities, I started to talk to party leaders within the district, and I asked them how they felt about Van Drew’s vote. They agreed with me in principle, noting the difficulty they were having in recruiting candidates and that their elected officials were reluctant to run with him. But at this point it was quite unclear if the party would continue to back Van Drew. Nonetheless, I asked the party chairs to consider me as an alternative, as in my mind, the vote to deny the American people the information they needed was reason enough to evict Van Drew from the Democratic party. This was not always an easy ask, since many of our party leaders have experienced firsthand my honest critique of institutional politics that has often hindered progress and led to Van Drew thinking his actions would face no consequences.
They all agreed to consider me – none would commit at that time. But over the next several weeks I continued those conversations. And I continued to put pressure on Van Drew, hoping that he would change course. I worked to build a fledgling campaign organization and prepared to announce the formation of an exploratory committee the day after the impeachment vote.
Instead, on Saturday, as I was walking into the Army Navy Game at the Linc, we learned that Jeff Van Drew was betraying his party after having betrayed his country.
I was weaned on South Jersey politics. My dad was a councilman, and I watched the Republican machine politics of the area growing up in Margate, where I attended Blessed Sacrament and Holy Spirit High School. I cut my teeth on local politics as Secretary of the Atlantic County Democratic Committee and as freeholder candidate when I was a young woman. I’ve studied politics all my life – at Stockton, at Rutgers, and at Temple — and here’s what I know:
Opportunity waits for no man. And it waits an even shorter time for a woman.
And so on Saturday night after talking with my family and friends, I called. I called the party chairmen and asked for their support. I explained that to be successful in November, we must be unified behind one candidate. I called the Senate President, whose legislative district intersects with the congressional district. I called the DCCC. I called Emily’s List. I called members of our congressional delegation. I called donors.
I asked the party chairs to endorse my candidacy because I had cleared the path by pressuring Van Drew out and I believe that I demonstrated the conviction and courage we need to win in 2020.
I asked the party chairs to endorse my candidacy because I firmly believe that the Democratic party must be united behind one candidate — otherwise we risk wasting time, energy and resources in a primary when those resources will be needed to win a competitive November election.
Many have embraced my candidacy quickly and as someone who is not a typical insider or a career politician, this is encouraging because our party leaders see that I offer a breath of fresh air – one that is often critical of them – at a time when we desperately need to unify behind courageous action.
Now that the path is clear, it’s easy for many to say that they’d like to be in Congress, and, of course, that is their right. But I would ask them: where was their courage, their leadership when a member of their party colluded to undermine our democracy? Why did they not speak up before an opportunity was available to further their own ambitions? Are they in for you, or are they in it for themselves?
I am asking for your support because I want to serve you. And in Congress, I will work hard to represent you, and even in the most challenging times, I will lead.
Thank you for your consideration, and I promise that as the first ever Congresswoman from South Jersey, I will fight tirelessly to make you proud.
In the meantime, I wish you and your family the most joyful of holidays, and a healthy, happy, and prosperous 2020!
Brigid Callahan Harrison
Candidate, New Jersey’s Second Congressional District