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Rep. Jeff Van Drew. (Photo: Kevin Sanders for the New Jersey Globe).

Van Drew wins re-election in 2nd congressional district

Three years after party switch, South Jersey congressman likely to get largest margin yet

By Joey Fox, November 08 2022 9:19 pm

The New Jersey Globe projects that Rep. Jeff Van Drew (R-Dennis) has won re-election, defeating Democrat Tim Alexander in the 2nd congressional district.

As of 10:10 p.m. and with an estimated 49% of votes reported, Van Drew leads Alexander by a 59%-40% margin, though that may change substantially as more votes come in.

For 17 years, Van Drew served as a moderate Democrat in the state legislature, representing the conservative 1st legislative district as an assemblyman and state senator. In 2018, he won the 2nd congressional district held by retiring Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R-Ventnor), giving Democrats one of the four seats they flipped in New Jersey that year.

But it wasn’t to last. Before he had even served one year in Congress, Van Drew dramatically announced he was switching to the Republican Party in December 2019, preempting murmurs that he might get a party-backed Democratic primary challenger for not supporting the impeachment of Donald Trump.

With Democrats furious at Van Drew’s defection, Amy Kennedy emerged as his 2020 general election opponent and raised gobs of money, but she was unable to overcome the district’s Republican lean, losing 52%-46%.

This year, Democrats chose Alexander, a civil rights lawyer and former prosecutor, to face Van Drew. While Alexander’s candidacy initially intrigued South Jersey Democrats, he proved incapable of challenging Van Drew’s growing hold on the district’s swing voters and turning the contest into a top-tier race.

Alexander only won the Democratic primary against Carolyn Rush 62%-38%, an early sign of his weakness as a candidate. Van Drew, meanwhile, further cemented his hold on South Jersey Republicans and beat two challengers with 86% of the vote.

The newly redrawn 2nd district could in theory still be competitive for Democrats in a better year and with a better candidate. It voted for Donald Trump by five points, slightly redder than on the old congressional map, and still includes blue-leaning Atlantic and Cumberland Counties (though Jack Ciattarelli blew Gov. Phil Murphy out of the water by 21 points in the district last year).

But in a midterm under a Democratic president, and with a sorely underfunded challenger – Alexander raised less than $500,000 total – Van Drew was never in any real danger of losing this year. To make sure of that, he spent almost $2.5 million throughout the cycle, keeping his campaign active despite being the heavy favorite.

The 69-year-old Van Drew has found a niche as New Jersey’s most pro-Trump representative; he was the only one of the state’s 14 members of Congress to vote against the certification of the 2020 election. Alexander, meanwhile, was talked up at first as a potential legislative candidate in Atlantic County, but his tepid congressional campaign may give Democrats pause.

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