The Atlantic County Democratic Chairman has told Rep. Jeff Van Drew (D-Dennis) that he might have a problem winning a primary next year if he doesn’t vote to impeach President Donald Trump.
In a letter obtained by the New Jersey Globe, Michael Suleiman told Van Drew that “a majority of my (county committee) members were very upset” with his vote against opening an impeachment inquiry five days before the 2019 general election.
“Candidly, it was a big distraction for my candidates and municipal leaders in Atlantic County during the tail end of the general election cycle,” Suleiman said. “Now that the 2019 election is over and the House seems poised to take action, I am imploring you to vote in favor of impeachment.”
A Primary Challenge for Van Drew?
Van Drew is almost certain to face a primary challenge if he votes against impeaching Trump and Suleiman appears to suggest that he can’t guarantee the freshman 2nd district congressman would secure organizational support for re-election when Democrats hold their county convention in March.
Brigid Callahan Harrison, a prominent political science professor who lives in Atlantic County is already mulling a congressional bid.
“Next year, as we are defending two freeholder seats, a constitutional officer, and Democratic majorities in two municipalities, a ‘no’ vote on impeachment will suppress Democratic turnout down-ballot, which my organization cannot sustain,” Suleiman told Van Drew. “Atlantic County Democrats have a tough time as it is facing 100 years of ‘Boardwalk Empire;’ we cannot afford to have Democrats sit on their hands in a presidential year when we usually perform well.”
Speculation Van Drew may switch parties
Van Drew has further angered local Democrats after making national television appearances crowing about his refusal to support the impeachment inquiry.
Trump has tweeted his appreciation to Van Drew three times, raising speculation in the district that the congressman might switch parties and seek re-election as a Republican.
Van Drew told CNN on Thursday that he intends to vote against all articles of impeachment.
“All of us should be on the right side of history during this very difficult time in our nation’s history,” said Suleiman. “Charlie Sandman lost the same seat that you hold for being on the wrong side of the Nixon impeachment, and I do not want to see our party face a similar fate.”
Suleiman told Van Drew that while New Jersey’s 2nd district is “moderate at best,” it is still more moderate than the legislative district he won seven times while running for the Assembly and State Senate.
“Voting for impeachment will undoubtedly hurt your standing with some Republican voters. However, as someone who has been in elected office for 30 years and has built up so much goodwill in South Jersey, I find it hard to believe that voters that have known you for decades will ditch you over one voted,” the Atlantic County Democratic leader said. “If anyone has banked the political capital necessary to take a hard vote, it is you.”
Van Drew and Cumberland County Democrats
There is also friction between Van Drew and Democratic leaders in Cumberland County who have placed some of the blame for losing a State Senate seat and two Assembly seats in the 2017 mid-term elections on the congressman.
Two sources confirmed to the Globe that Cumberland County Freeholder Jack Surrency, a former two term Bridgeton councilman and former school board member, is being encouraged to take on Van Drew.
In 2018, Van Drew flipped the 2nd district House seat after GOP Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R-Ventnor) retired after 24 years in Congress.
He won the Democratic primary with 57% of the vote and won 62.5% in Atlantic County. Van Drew won the general election by a 53%-45% margin after national Republicans refused to support the GOP nominee, former Atlantic County Freeholder Seth Grossman.
The 2nd has 17,235 more Democrats than Republicans and gave Trump a 50%-46% win over Hillary Clinton in 2016.
InsiderNJ, a political news site, reported on Thursday that West Cape May Commissioner John H. Francis III was considering a primary challenge to Van Drew. Francis comes from a borough with just 1,024 residents and is still in his first term as a local official.
Two Democratic assemblymen, Vince Mazzeo (D-Northfield) and Adam Taliaferro (D-Woolwich), have said they are not interested in running for Congress.
Mazzeo refused to close the door on entering the race if Van Drew decides not to seek re-election.
So far, three Republicans have entered the race to run against Van Drew: former Hill International CEO David Richter, former Trump administration appointee Robert Patterson, and former Atlantic County Young Republican Chairman Brian Fitzpatrick.
Joseph “Rudy” Rullo, who sought the Republican nomination for governor in 2017, is also considering a congressional run.Suleiman to Van Drew 12-02-19