Political science professor Brigid Harrison won’t seek the support of Craig Callaway, a Democratic power broker in Atlantic City, if she wins the nod to take on Rep. Jeff Van Drew (R-Dennis), the candidate said during a forum hosted by the New Jersey Globe on Sunday.
“If it means being corrupt in order to be elected, I’d rather not be elected than be corrupt,” she said, brushing aside worries that not seeking the power broker’s support could endanger general election votes in the Democratic stronghold. “It’s not worth it, and it stands in the face of everything that I value and why I got into this.”
Callaway and the Atlantic City Democratic Committee have backed former teacher Amy Kennedy for the nomination, and the county’s Democratic organization in March awarded her the county line.
Harrison was the only of the three candidates who attended Sunday’s forum, which was moderated by New Jersey Globe editor David Wildstein, that sought Callaway support. Retired FBI Agent Robert Turkavage and West Cape May Commissioner John Francis III said they didn’t meet with the party boss.
Kennedy and former congressional staffer Will Cunningham did not attend the forum, which was organized on short notice. Kennedy’s campaign cited a scheduling conflict, and Cunningham said he would not participate if Kennedy did not.
Harrison claimed Kennedy paid Callaway $100,000 for the municipal committee’s support, a charge both she and Cunningham have levied on past occasions, also pointing to old ballot tampering accusations leveled against the party insider that led her to call for federal election monitors of the district’s primary.
Though a campaign finance report the Atlantic City Democratic Committee filed with the Election Law Enforcement Commission in April list no such donation, Kennedy, asked by Politico New Jersey in May, declined to say whether she or any associates paid Callaway in exchange for his support
The political science professor’s own power brokers got a moment in the spotlight, but none of the candidates in attendance took issue with six South Jersey Democratic chairmen quickly lining up behind Harrison shortly after she announced her candidacy days after the New Jersey Globe reported Van Drew’s intention to defect to the Republican party in December.
Though he believed Harrison should not be faulted for seeking and winning the support of the district’s Democratic leaders, Turkavage wanted the party line to go the way of the dodo.
“She should not be criticized for trying to get the lines because she’s dealing with the cards that she’s dealt, and she’s operating within that framework,” Turkavage said. “Now, with that said, do I think this is a good system? Absolutely not. I think the system should be changed. This whole system of party lines should be thrown out.”
Francis also warned against holding Harrison’s support against her. The reality, he said, is the other candidates have to deal with it despite the advantage it gives the professor.
Kennedy and, to a lesser degree, Cunningham have centered their attacks against Harrison on the South Jersey Democratic machine and its leader, kingmaker George Norcross.
Most of the candidates also had some advice for former Vice President Joe Biden in his search for a running mate.
Turkavage said he wanted U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) for the job but settled on U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Cali.) after Klobuchar took her name out of the running and called on Biden to pick a woman of color as his number two.
Thinking electorally, Harrison suggested Biden pick someone like former Georgia Assemblywoman Stacey Abrams.
Harrison said that a Democrat with roots in the southern United States like Abrams, who is black, could help the presidential candidate win over moderate voters south of the 35th parallel, and Francis said didn’t want to step on any toes.
“I wouldn’t tell him anything,” he said. “’Joe, just go for it.’”
This story was updated at 12:54 a.m. on June 29.