Rep. Jeff Van Drew (D-Dennis) will become a Republican in the imminent future, according to several high-level sources with ties to the right-of-center Democrat who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Van Drew’s chief of staff has begun notifying the right-of-center Democrat’s campaign and congressional staffs that the first-term representative will join the Republican party, the sources said. Some of those that were told of the move have indicated they intend to resign.
The switch has not yet occurred and likely won’t until a vote on the impeachment of President Donald Trump that could come as early as next week.
Van Drew did not immediately respond to a call and voicemail message made at 2:37 p.m.
Over preceding weeks, support for Van Drew among local Democrats has ebbed away, the retreat fueled by his opposition to the bid to impeach Trump.
Democratic leaders — including Gov. Phil Murphy, U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez and State Senate President Steve Sweeney — who enthusiastically backed Van Drew during his 2018 congressional bid have declined to endorse his re-election.
Atlantic County Democratic Chairman Michael Suleiman recently told Van Drew he could not guarantee the congressman a primary victory unless he moved on the issue.
Brigid Harrison, a well-known political science professor who lives in Atlantic County, was considering challenging Van Drew from the left next year.
But the congressman’s stance hasn’t shifted. Instead, he has continually signaled — in incredibly clear terms — that he intends to vote against two articles of impeachment the House has drafted against Trump when they come to a vote before the full House. That vote could come as early as next week, though some Democratic sources on the Hill said it could come later.
The congressman was one of only two Democrats to vote against a House resolution establishing procedures for public impeachment hearings.
Support for a switch was mixed on the Republican side.
Many local Republicans who have fought Van Drew in the decades before he ascended to Congress, including Cape May County Republican Chairman Marcus Karavan, have said he should remain in the Democratic Party.
State Sen. Michael Testa, the Cumberland County GOP chairman, on Thursday declined to say whether Van Drew should be welcomed into the fold. Testa is an honorary chairman of Trump’s New Jersey re-election campaign.
State Sen. Joe Pennacchio, also an honorary chair of the president’s state re-election campaign, said his party should welcome Van Drew.
White House sources have told the New Jersey Globe that the president wants Van Drew to switch, and The Washington Post on Saturday reported Trump made a personal plea to Van Drew pushing the congressman’s defection this week.
The optics of a change in Van Drew’s party affiliation — that of a Democrat leaving the party over a belief that it has lost its way on impeachment — play well into the White House narrative on the investigations against Trump. The president’s allies have claimed the proceedings are political and fueled by disdain for Trump.
It’s unclear how many local officials have been told about Van Drew’s imminent switch, but at least two, one on either side of the aisle, were unaware of the move Saturday afternoon.
Three Republicans, David Richter, Brian Fitzherbert and Robert Patterson, were seeking the nod to run against Van Drew, and while a Trump endorsement could help clear the primary, there’s no guarantee that Van Drew will win the Republican nomination uncontested.
Richter has already won the party line in Burlington County, and he told the New Jersey Globe he would stay in the race if Van Drew joined the GOP.
Suleiman, who attacked Van Drew following news of his party switch, said Democrats still intend to play for the seat.
“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.”