Democratic House candidate Amy Kennedy isn’t concerned that her criticism of President Donald Trump could prompt backlash from voters in the second district.
“I think that it’s really important that people know I’m looking to deliver for the district,” she said during a press conference Thursday. “And when those are the issues that we talk about and they really hit home with voters, they’ll see that I’m willing to put their needs first regardless of where they are on the presidential ticket.”
Trump carried the district by roughly five points against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2016, though Rep. Jeff Van Drew (R-Dennis) won the district by eight points as a Democrat in 2018.
Since her primary win, the challenger has repeatedly and frequently attacked Van Drew over his ties to Trump — the congressman’s defection was a political boon the president, and he repaid it with a January rally in Wildwood and a speech on the final night of the Republican National Convention.
Kennedy jabbed the incumbent over that rally Thursday, saying Van Drew ought to have put the president’s favor to work for his constituents.
“Jeff Van Drew refused time and again to advocate for our community. He pledged his undying loyalty to Donald Trump, but instead of advocating for funding, he asked for a political rally,” she said. “Instead of change, he’s seeking personal gain.”
The willingness to criticize Trump is a departure from strategies Democratic candidates adopted in 2018. Then, Reps. Mikie Sherrill (D-Montclair), Andy Kim (D-Marlton) and Van Drew largely steered clear of the president over worries that criticizing him could sink their chances at flipping Republican seats.
Kennedy hasn’t shown such hesitance, but the first-time candidate isn’t relying purely on the partisanship that takes hold around every presidential race to secure a win. Instead, she’s making pitches on the issues and hoping voters, especially older ones, buy in.
On Thursday, Kennedy, appearing alongside Gov. Phil Murphy and Wildwood Mayor Pete Byron, made a pitch to repair the second district’s aging roads an infrastructure.
“If I were to keep it focused on today’s topic, I would say one of the areas that we talked about was senior housing and making sure that that’s invested in,” she said when asked how she would convince elderly voters, some of whom have been voting for Van Drew for three decades, to drop the incumbent. “We have to be looking at safety, at the conditions, living conditions”
Kennedy said she would roll out a list of policies addressing issues relevant to the district’s seniors at some point down the line. At the very least, it’ll include a pledge to protect Social Security.
“I think that is so timely right now as we’re seeing this administration talk about the payroll tax deductions,” she said. “We have to have someone representing this district that will make sure they’re fighting for pensions and social security, as well as things like lowering the cost of prescription drugs that really impact our seniors.”
A previous version of this story misstated Van Drew’s 2018 margin of victory. It was eight points, not six.