There is considerable speculation this morning that David Richter might switch from a challenge to Rep. Jeff Van Drew in the 2nd district Republican primary to a race against freshman Democratic Rep. Andy Kim in the 3rd.
Former Gov. Chris Christie is playing a major role in enticing Richter to run shift to the Kim race in advance of President Donald Trump’s rally in Wildwood next week, the New Jersey Globe has learned.
Richter said he was still running against Van Drew, but refused to rule out the option of changing districts and running in a GOP primary against former Burlington County freeholder Kate Gibbs and two other candidates.
“I will continue in the race until I think my chances are zero,” Richter said in a telephone interview on Thursday evening. “As of right now, I don’t think my chances are zero.”
Several sources speaking on the condition of anonymity told the Globe that Christie has spoken with Richter and is working on a deal.
If he endorses Van Drew, Richter could wind up on the stage with Trump on Tuesday evening – and maybe even find himself being lauded by the president.
That could be enough to help Richter to secure the organization line in Ocean County, where county chairman Frank Holman III has not yet settled on a candidate to take on Kim.
Delivering Ocean County might once have been a breeze for Christie, but the resignation of longtime county chairman George Gilmore following his conviction on tax-related charges, means that the former governor’s ability to deliver the line is less than automatic.
Gibbs presents a formidable obstacle to Richter securing the 3rd district nomination. She began mulling a House bid when Kim ousted Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-Toms River) in 2018, formed an exploratory committee last September, and formally announced her candidacy just before Thanksgiving.
In December, Burlington County Republicans voted to give Gibbs the line in the 3rd district and Richter in the 2nd. Burlington has not pulled their endorsement and backed Van Drew, despite considerable pressure.
The Ocean County portion of the 3rd district has more Republicans than Burlington, although the number is close. In the 2016 congressional primary, 1,688 more votes were cast in Ocean.
Gibbs, the deputy director of the Engineers Labor-Employer Cooperative of the Operating Engineers Local 825, raised $143,000 in her first five weeks as a congressional candidate.
She was in Fort Lauderdale earlier this week to speak at the International Union of Operating Engineers winter meeting, and sources told the Globe that she walked away with a commitment for support in her bid for Congress.
The former CEO of Hill International, one of the nation’s largest construction companies, raised $652,980 — $500,000 of it his own — since entering the race to challenge Van Drew in August. He has $515,226 cash-on-hand.
Richter was front runner until Van Drew party switch
Richter was widely viewed as the front runner for the GOP nomination until Van Drew announced that he was switching parties late last year after refusing to support Trump’s impeachment.
There have been rumors of Richter moving to run against Kim since Van Drew announced that he was becoming a Republican in December.
Several top New Jersey Republicans, including State Sen. Michael Testa, Jr. (R-Vineland) and GOP county chairs Marcus Karavan of Cape May, Keith Davis of Atlantic, Linda Dubois of Salem and Holman endorsed Van Drew after Trump backed the freshman congressman at a meeting in the Oval Office.
Camden County Republicans announced their support of Van Drew on Thursday.
Under duress, many of Richter’s consultants and staffers resigned, and several Republican officeholders rescinded their endorsements. The National Republican Congressional Committee removed him from the Young Guns list, which affects Richter’s ability to attract national GOP money.
Richter acknowledged that people have talked to him about getting out of the race and said that the level of Trump’s support has been strong.
“He hasn’t just endorsed Jeff Van Drew, he’s embraced him,” Richter said.
A switch to the 3rd district might be awkward – Richter moved from Princeton to Avalon to run for Congress and would for a second time to take on Kim.
Still, it might be difficult to call him a carpetbagger: Richter grew up in Willingboro, which is in the 3rd, and then in Cherry Hill, which was part of the district until the lines were redrawn in 2012.
MacArthur moved from Morris County to run for the 3rd district seat in 2014 and won the primary against Steve Lonegan, who relocated from Bergen County to run.
District switching is becoming a thing
If Richter does switch to the race against Kim, he would become the second Republican in a week to change congressional districts.
In North Jersey, former U.S. Senate staffer Rosemary Becchi dropped her challenge to Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-Ringoes) in the 7th district and is now running in the 11th against Rep. Mikie Sherrill.
Christie and Republican National Committeeman Bill Palatucci played no role in Becchi’s switch, which cleared the field for Senate Minority Leader Thomas Kean, Jr. to take on Malinowski.
Palatucci was deliberately left out of the discussions and Christie was on a boys weekend in the Bahamas with Democratic powerbroker George Norcross.
A decision by Richter to leave the 2nd district race does not necessarily clear the field for Van Drew.
Two other candidates, former Trump administration official Robert Patterson and former Atlantic County Young Republican chairman Brian Fitzherbert, are also seeking the GOP nomination.
Fitzherbert has struggled to raise money and his campaign could be on life support if he has a second consecutive weak fundraising quarter. He raised just $21,287 in the 3rd quarter of 2019.
The 3rd district is one of the most politically competitive in the state, with 10,754 more Democrats than Republicans. Trump won the district by six points, 51%-45%, in 2016.
In comparison, the 2nd has 17,100 more Democrats than Republicans and Trump’s margin was four points, 50%-46%.
Kim, a former Obama White House staffer, defeated MacArthur by just 3,973 votes in 2018 – the closest House race in the state. He raised a colossal $900,000 during the 4th quarter of 2019 and heads into his election year with more than $2.2 million cash-on-hand.