Democrats in New Jersey’s 2nd district are beginning to recruit a candidate to take on Rep. Jeff Van Drew (R-Dennis) next year, with some insiders and activists urging Amy Kennedy to seek a rematch.
Kennedy has remained visible in South Jersey since losing her 2020 congressional race to Van Drew by a 52%-46% margin.
In a statement sent out by the Democratic State Committee on Thursday, Kennedy slammed Van Drew for voting to reject President-elect Joe Biden’s electoral college victory.
“Jeff Van Drew has chosen to fan the flames and support phony conspiracy theories that threaten to do permanent damage to our democracy and our country,” Kennedy said.
With the last election just two months ago, Kennedy has not yet considered running again in 2022, according to one of her campaign advisors.
“Amy was disturbed and angered that after promising to be a bi-partisan fighter, Jeff Van Drew now stands with the far-right radicals to overturn an election despite the violence in the Capitol on Wednesday,” the advisor said. “She was really offended by that.”
Atlantic County Democratic Chairman Michael Suleiman told the New Jersey Globe that he’d like Democrats to figure out a strategy to unseat Van Drew over the next few months.
“We do have to identify someone to run because this guy has got to go,” he said.
Van Drew had entered Congress as a Democrat two years ago but switched parties in December 2019 after refusing to support the impeachment of President Donald Trump.
“Yesterday changed a lot and it really put things in perspective that we need to defend our democracy,” said Suleiman. “I thought after the violence that Jeff would have reconsidered. That was frightening.”
There are still some obstacles to candidate recruitment, including the unknowns of congressional redistricting and effect of Biden’s mid-term elections – something that historically results in a President’s party losing House seats.
The long list of potential Van Drew challengers remains relatively short: Assemblyman Vince Mazzeo (D-Northfield); Cape May County Democratic Chairman Brendan Sciarra; Cumberland County Commissioner Joe Derella; and retired Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers union leader Richard Tolson. The other Democrats who challenged Kennedy for the nomination last year are also potential candidates: political science professor Brigid Callahan Harrison, West Cape May Commissioner John Francis III, former congressional aide Will Cunningham, and retired FBI agent Robert Turkavage.
One possible contender, Assemblyman Adam Taliaferro (D-Woolwich), says he’s focused on serving in the legislature and not interested in running for Congress.
“I’m looking forward to supporting Amy if she decides to run,” Taliaferro said.
Sulieman plans to discuss the race with the other seven Democratic county chairman in the near future and says keeping Van Drew in their line of sight won’t get in the way of the 2021 campaigns for governor, legislature and county commissioner.
“We can walk, talk and chew gum at the same time,” he said.
For her part, Kennedy has the luxury of remaining on the sidelines for now and continuing to criticize Van Drew.
“Some things are more important than partisan politics— like truth, the integrity of our Democracy and the long term viability of our country,” Kennedy said. “Jeff Van Drew won a fair and free election. I did not contest it or make up claims of fraud. I simply called my opponent and said congratulations.”