The field of Democratic candidates seeking to challenge party-switching incumbent Jeff Van Drew in New Jersey’s 2nd district may be the most diverse field of congressional contenders in a mostly white, suburban district in state history.
The leading candidates so far are all women: Brigid Callahan Harrison, a political science professor who has won the endorsements of six Democratic county organizations; Ashley Bennett, a 34-year-old first-term Atlantic County freeholder; and Amy Kennedy, a former public school teacher and member of one of America’s most storied political families.
A fourth woman, self-proclaimed social media influencer Erica Collins, announced this week that she is mulling a congressional bid.
Three of the candidates are African American: Will Cunningham, a Capitol Hill staffer; John Francis III, a West Cape May commissioner; and Bennett. Collins is also African-American.
Cunningham is openly gay.
Only one of the candidates is a white male: Robert Turkavage, a retired FBI agent who switched parties after winning 7% of the vote in the Republican congressional primary two years ago.
Van Drew, a 66-year-old freshman and the only Dutch American in the New Jersey congressional delegation, switched parties last month after becoming one of two House Democrats to oppose the impeachment of President Donald Trump.
Trump is coming to Wildwood on January 28 for a Keep America Great rally that will be a high-profile event for Van Drew. Van Drew told the New Jersey Globe that he will fly to his district with Trump aboard Air Force One.
The 2nd district is 66% white with an African American population of 12%, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Six out of ten residents of the district were born in New Jersey.
South Jersey has never sent a woman to Congress, although the first woman to run statewide was from Vineland.
Thelma Parkinson Sharp was just 32 when Democrats nominated her to run in a special election for a ten-week unexpired term in the United States Senate. She lost 50%-39% to Republican Dwight Morrow, a former U.S. Ambassador to Mexico and the father-in-law of aviator Charles Lindbergh.
Just one woman has won a statewide Democratic primary in New Jersey: Barbara Buono in 2013. Democrats did not run a woman for statewide office until 2009, when Loretta Weinberg was picked by Gov. Jon Corzine to run for Lt. Governor.
Republicans have nominated women to run statewide six times.