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Gov. Phil Murphy. Photo by Kevin Sanders for the New Jersey Globe.

Murphy endorses incumbents, including Norcross, for re-election

Progressive governor won’t help potential challenges to Gottheimer, Van Drew

By Nikita Biryukov, July 18 2019 5:14 pm

Gov. Phil Murphy backed all eleven Democratic members of New Jersey’s House delegation for re-election Thursday, including Rep. Donald Norcross (D-Camden), the brother of a political powerbroker tied to Murphy’s disputes with the legislature.

“I view myself, categorically, as the titular if not the actual head of the Democratic party in the state of New Jersey, and I’m proud to support Democrats for re-election,” Murphy said when asked if there were any congressional New Jersey Democrats he wouldn’t back for another term.

Murphy’s endorsement of incumbents this far in advance of the June 2020 primary election locks some of his progressive allies into a corner as they mull possible challenges from the left wing of the Democratic Party.

On Friday, Murphy and Norcross will lead the New Jersey congressional delegation on a tour of New Jersey’s military installations.

Among other things, Murphy and South Jersey businessman George Norcross have feuded over tax incentives meted out by the Economic Development Authority.

The heart of that battle lies with tax breaks awarded to Camden-based companies with ties to the power broker.

Rep. Norcross has stayed out of that fight publicly, and he has attempted to downplay his role in the passage of the 2013 bill that enabled the incentive programs at question despite wholeheartedly pushing for their enactment as a state senator.

The progressive allies that make Murphy’s base have taken aim at the congressman and his brother.

In May, a coalition of progressive groups, including New Jersey Working Families and South Jersey Women for Progressive Change, among others, sent a letter asking George, Donald and Philip Norcross be investigated for their involvement with the EDA’s programs to U.S. Attorneys Craig Carpenito and William McSwain and New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal.

Murphy’s backing Norcross for another term indicates he doesn’t share the activists displeasure with the congressman.

Progressives were dealt a similar hand when Murphy endorsed Assembly Majority Leader Louis  Greenwald (D-Voorhees) and Assemblywoman Pamela Lampitt (D-Cherry Hill), both of whom are staunch Norcross allies, just days before facing challenges in the June 4 Democratic primary.

Congressman Norcross isn’t the only New Jersey congressman to draw progressives’ ire.

The party’s left wing has increasingly been eyeing primary challenges to Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-Wyckoff), a moderate Democrat representing a district Republicans held for decades until he won its seat in 2016.

Gottheimer is co-chair of the House Problem Solvers Caucus, a group bipartisan congresspeople that aim to break gridlock in Washington.

Last year, Gottheimer voted in line with Trump more than almost any other Democrat, according to Congressional Quarterly’s annual vote rankings, with some of the deals pushed through by the problem solvers caucus, which in June backed the Senate’s emergency border funding measure over the one pushed by progressive Democrats and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Obviously, the move earned Gottheimer little favor with the party’s left wing.

Murphy has also chosen to back for re-election Rep. Jeff Van Drew (D-Dennis), a right-of-center Democrat who also represents a historically Republican district.

Most recently, Van Drew has drawn fire for comments telling Democrats and Republicans to cut the name calling after Trump told four non-white congresswomen, three of whom were born in America, to go back to where they came from.

Editor’s Note: A previous version of this story said Gottheimer backed Senate Republicans’ plan. The plan was backed by most of the Senate and passed it’s vote in the chamber 84-8.

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