Editor’s Note: This article was updated with comment from Richter at 4:10 p.m.
Atlantic County Republican Chairman Keith Davis asked the county’s Republican leaders to pull their endorsements of David Richter in an email obtained by the New Jersey Globe.
The email, sent to the county’s Republican leaders Friday, asks them to pull withdraw Richter endorsements over a New York Times report in which the House candidate questioned President Donald Trump’s motives for endorsing Rep. Jeff Van Drew (R-Dennis).
“From name-calling on CNN to now questioning President Trump’s motivations in endorsing Congressman Van Drew in the New York Times, it is becoming apparent that David Richter’s words are hurting our party more than they are helping it,” Davis said.
Van Drew defected to the Republican party last month after support for him among local and state Democrats began to ebb over the congressman’s opposition to impeachment proceedings against Trump.
Richter, who has the organizational line in Burlington County and was once the frontrunner for the Republican nod in the second district, has seen organizational support flow away from him in the same way.
He fired back at Republican leaders over Davis’s letter, claiming the national party and the White House were pressuring local GOP leaders to force out Van Drew’s opponents.
“This is part of the national party’s continuing effort to clear the field to make sure that Jeff Van Drew doesn’t face a competitive primary,” Richter said. “And I think they’re trying to do that because they know, like everybody knows, that he can’t win a competitive Republican primary because he’s not a Republican.”
In October, the National Republican Congressional Committee added his name to the Young Guns program, a short list for top candidates in competitive districts.
His name no longer appears there, and Davis is urging elected officials and party leaders in his county to pull their names from Richter’s list of backers.
“I know several in the organization have endorsed David. But given these recent revelations, I think now is the time for them to hold David to account for his actions or reconsider their previous endorsements,” Davis said. “We need to put our party in the strongest position to hold this congressional seat. These actions aren’t advancing that mission.”
The optics of a Democratic congressman leaving the party over a belief that it had lost its way on impeachment plays well into the White House narrative on the issue.
Put simply: Van Drew’s defection made him Trump’s pick for the district.
So far, Trump has repaid the congressman with an endorsement and a rally scheduled to take place in Wildwood on Jan. 28.
Richter and two other Republicans who were in the race before Van Drew’s party switch, Brian Fitzherbert and Robert Patterson, are still seeking the nod there, though they face increasingly thin odds as many of the district’s local Republican leaders follow Trump’s lead on Van Drew.
Despite receiving numerous endorsements from Atlantic County officials, Fitzherbert was not mentioned in Davis’s email.
“It wasn’t going to take very much to get them to start to do this,” Richter said. “They realize I’m the only candidate that can beat Jeff, and they’re going to use an article in the New York Times and a quote that was taken out of context to attack me.”
Every Republican member of Cape May County’s freeholder board, as well as every Republican constitutional officer there, has publicly welcomed Van Drew into the party.
Cumberland County Republican Chairman Michael Testa, a state senator and co-chair of Trump’s New Jersey re-election campaign, has endorsed Van Drew despite decades spent opposite the congressman when he was serving in the state legislature.
Even former Atlantic County Freeholder Seth Grossman, Van Drew’s Republican opponent for Congress in 2018, has spoken favorably of the congressman’s defection, though he stopped short of endorsing him Friday.
Still, Richter thinks he has a chance.
“At the end of the day, I don’t think that people are going to be voting for a lifelong Democrat to be their Republican nominee,” he said. “I intend to offer the voters a choice: a lifelong Republican or a lifelong Democrat to be their nominee for Congress.”