David Richter will drop his GOP primary challenge to Democrat-turned-Republican Jeff Van Drew (R-Dennis) in the 2nd district and instead seek to run against Rep. Andy Kim (D-Marlton) in the 3rd.
“When I decided to run for Congress, it was to flip a congressional seat,” Richter told the New Jersey Globe. “That’s already happened. I’m endorsing Jeff Van Drew.”
Richter said he has hired former White House political director Bill Stepien, a top advisor to President Donald Trump, as his campaign consultant.
“I ran to support Trump,” Richter said. “Now I’m getting back to what I wanted to do anyway and flip a blue district red.”
Richter called Kim “very, very liberal” and said the freshman congressman’s voting record makes him “beatable.”
That puts Richter into a primary fight with labor leader Kate Gibbs, a former Burlington County freeholder who has the support of her home county GOP organization.
Former Gov. Chris Christie played a key role in putting together the deal for Richter to switch districts, according to several sources who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Richter has been making calls to GOP leaders this morning informing them of his decision.
A formal announcement is intended for later today.
Ocean County Republican Chairman Frank Holman told the Globe last week that he was open to backing Richter, but said his organization line won’t be awarded until after an open convention in March.
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 last 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.
“Anyone who thinks they can push me around doesn’t know anything about South Jersey women,” Gibbs said in a statement today. ” I’m not stepping aside for anybody. Especially not a seat shopper who apparently believes he’s entitled to party support — somewhere, anywhere. My motivation for running isn’t to wear a pin and get a title; I am running to serve the people of Burlington and Ocean Counties and I intend to win.”
Gibbs called out “party leaders who like to talk about empowering and supporting young Republican women to run and serve.”
“Well, here I am. The ball is in your court,” she said. “I’ve worked at the grassroots level for years to elect Republicans in South Jersey, was the youngest elected Freeholder Director in the state, cut taxes every year I was in office, and am proud to be a leader for the state building trades.”
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.
A group of leading GOP fundraisers, including former State Sen. Diane Allen (R-Edgewater Park), doubled down on their support of Gibbs this morning.
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.
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.
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.
This story was updated at 12:50 PM with comment from Richter.