New Jersey’s two Republican congressman were absent from a list of top targets released by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Tuesday, and while that’s unsurprising for Rep. Chris Smith (R-Hamilton), state Democrats want Rep. Jeff Van Drew’s (R-Dennis) seat back in their hands.
The longtime former Democratic state senator was briefly a congressional Democrat, but he defected to the Republican Party in December 2019 after he was told opposition to the first set of impeachment proceedings against former President Donald Trump could cost him party support.
But his absence from Tuesday’s list doesn’t mean national Democrats won’t have their eyes on the race in New Jersey’s second congressional district, DCCC regional press secretary James Singer said.
“That this was the initial list that the DCCC has focused on,” he said. “He could be added in a month. He could be added in a year, but this is just the initial list we’re putting out.”
Calls seeking comment from Van Drew’s congressional office and chief of staff, made at 10:14 a.m. and 11:15 a.m., respectively, were not immediately returned.
Van Drew last year defeated challenger Amy Kennedy by a little less than six points, about double Trump’s 2.9-point margin over President Joe Biden in the district.
State Democrats are already attempting to soften up Van Drew for another challenge this year.
“New Jersey Democrats are 100% committed to defeating Jeff Van Drew and holding him accountable for his many betrayals, from helping Donald Trump spread dangerous, deadly lies about our election integrity, to supporting Republican voter suppression tactics to opposing President Biden’s American Rescue Plan,” New Jersey Democratic State Committee spokesman Phil Swibinski said.
The state party has launched a website — and several social media pages — attacking the two-term congressman over his party switch and his no vote on certifying Biden’s electoral college victory.
But some Democratic operatives in the state have privately worried that Van Drew’s personal brand has already taken hold in the district. The congressman, then a right-of-center Democrat, for more than a decade represented the right-leaning first legislative district, regularly winning elections by safe margins and carrying the district’s Democratic Assembly candidates into office.
Republicans retook the all three of the district’s seats in 2019, the year after Van Drew was elected to Congress.
There’s still a great deal of uncertainty around next year’s congressional races, and the second district is no exception.
Congressional district lines will be redrawn before the end of January, and it’s not clear what Van Drew’s district will look like come next November. In part, Singer cited that uncertainty for Van Drew’s absence from the DCCC’s list of targets.
“The district maps are going to change,” he said. “We don’t totally know some of the census, so this is kind of an initial list.”
Smith could be made more vulnerable if the fourth congressional district gets bluer after new lines are drawn, but the 21-term congressman’s current district is safely Republican. He intends to seek election to a 22nd term next year.