Rep. Jeff Van Drew (D-Dennis) has been told by leaders of his own party that he will almost certainly face a serious primary opponent if he fails to support his fellow House Democrats and vote to impeach Trump.
The prospect of losing party support after nearly 30 years as a right-of-center Democratic officeholder has led to speculation that the 66-year-old freshman congressman might switch parties and seek re-election as a Republican.
But former GOP legislators who have battled with Van Drew in a pro-Trump legislative districts over the last 18 years are hardly anxious to pick him up.
“It’s a risky gamble on his part,” said former State Sen. Nicholas Asselta (R-Vineland), who lost his seat to Van Drew in 2007. “I don’t think people will automatically do a 180 and say we love the guy.”
Former Assemblyman Samuel Fiocchi (R-Vineland) said Republicans already have plenty of “real conservative candidates” in the race.
“Why would we want him?” asked Fiocchi, who upset a Van Drew Team incumbent in 2013 and then lost his seat two years later. “Jeff has proven to be a chameleon. If the wind is blowing the Republican way, that’s the way he goes.”
Asselta compared the possible party switch of his former rival to Arlen Specter, a left-of-center, five-term Republican U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania who found home state Democrats didn’t want him after switching parties a decade ago.
Despite the support of President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and Gov. Ed Rendell, Specter lost the Democratic primary by eight points.
“It’s what happens when you switch,” said Asselta, 68. “Then you have to run in a primary.”
Van Drew would have a hard time securing the support of local Republicans, according to Asselta, who is backing former Trump administration appointee Robert Patterson for the congressional nod.
“I don’t know if Jeff can be guaranteed a win in the primary, even if Trump says, ‘Hey, I’m with the guy,’” Asselta told the New Jersey Globe. “I don’t think there’s a path for me to support him.”
In addition to Patterson, former Hill International CEO David Richter and former Atlantic County Young Republican Chairman Brian Fitzherbert are already seeking the GOP nomination to challenge Van Drew next year.
“I don’t see these guys getting out of the race,” Asselta said. “Van Drew would have a hard time, even if Trump came into the district.”
Asselta said that Van Drew will be in a tough spot when the House votes on Articles of Impeachment against Trump.
“He’s got a real dilemma here,” Asselta explained. “It’s a lose-lose for Van Drew.”
Not all off his former opponents have a problem with Van Drew becoming a Republican.
“If he decides to switch parties, I think we should welcome him,” said former Assemblyman Jack Gibson (R-Sea Isle City), who was by Van Drew when he sought re-election to a sixth term in 2001. “I respect him as a legislator.
The 85-year-old Gibson told the Globe that “South Jersey is an area where there’s less political infighting.”
“We’re a little more polite,” Gibson said.
Fiocchi, 67, disagrees.
“I’m not so welcoming,” the conservative ex-lawmaker said.