Atlantic County Democratic Chairman Michael Suleiman slammed Rep. Jeff Van Drew after news of the congressman’s impending defection to the Republican party broke.
“I think Jeff Van Drew is a coward,” Suleiman said. “I think he stabbed our party in the back. It’s a real profile in courage. Instead of voting how you’re going to vote and take the heat, he decides to screw us and just support the other party.”
On Saturday, the New Jersey Globe reported Van Drew’s chief of staff had told members of the congressman’s campaign and congressional staffs that the first-term representative would be moving to the Republican party.
Some of those told have indicated they will resign.
“There’s a lot of Democrats who are doing the right thing on impeachment, and for him not to do the right thing on impeachment but, frankly, to just decide to switch parties after all that the Democratic party has done for him is disgusting,” Suleiman said. “It’s bullshit, quite frankly, and you know what? It’s just fine. Good riddance.”
Support for Van Drew among local Democrats had ebbed over the weeks preceding news of Van Drew’s party switch.
Suleiman told Van Drew that he could not guarantee the former state senator a primary win unless he changed course on the impeachment of Donald Trump, which Van Drew has continuously opposed.
Democrats won that seat for the first time in more than two decades in 2018, when Van Drew secured a narrower-than-expected win against former Atlantic County Freeholder Seth Grossman, who made his bid with almost no party support after reports highlighted the candidate’s controversial statements on diversity, among other things.
Suleiman wants to keep that seat, and he expects the Democratic primary field to fill out now that Van Drew will run in a different contest.
“It’s still my strong desire that we keep the seat Democratic,” he said. “I’m sure at our nominating convention in March, our county is going to nominate and endorse a good Democrat that could win that seat, so we’re going to let that process play out.”
Brigid Harrison, a well-known political science professor who lives in Atlantic County, is exploring a bid.