New Jersey Republican State Chairman Doug Steinhardt endorsed Rep. Jeff Van Drew (R-Dennis) for re-election Monday.
“He is the incumbent congressman, and we’re here to be supportive,” Steinhardt said. “That’s our job, that’s what we do.”
Van Drew defected from the Democratic party in December after the second congressional district’s party leaders began warning him that his opposition to impeachment proceedings against Donald Trump could cost him renomination.
Trump, who benefits from the optics of a Democrat leaving the party over opposition to impeachment, and Republican leaders in the district have since flocked to back Van Drew over the three Republicans that challenged him before his realignment.
The president will even come to campaign for Van Drew at a Jan. 28 rally in Wildwood.
“Congressman Van Drew saw clear to become a Republican, and I think that’s great,” Steinhardt said. “He’ll still have to earn it in CD2, but I think he’s working hard to do exactly that. He’s got the president in his corner, and I think it’s going to prove to be a great rally on the 28th.”
While some Republicans — mainly David Richter, Brian Fitzherbert and Robert Patterson — have launched attacks at the former Democrat over his decades in the opposition party, Steinhardt said defections like Van Drew’s were one of the only ways to grow the GOP.
“The concept of having Democrats switch parties and become Republicans, as I said before, that’s the only way we cut into that plurality,” he said. “And I think the people down there that have an issue have an issue with Jeff Van Drew, not the concept of Democrats becoming Republicans.”
Van Drew’s defection has been particularly hard on Richter, who was once the frontrunner for the Republican nod in the second district.
Since the congressman’s defection, Richter, a former construction company CEO with the ability to self-fund his campaign, has seen party support evaporate.
Most recently, three Galloway officials who endorsed Richter in September announced they were backing Van Drew.
Their change of heart came after Atlantic County Republican Chairman Keith Davis asked local officials to pull away from Richter over comments in a New York Times article about his thinning chances in the primary.
The tension between the once frontrunner and party leaders should come as no surprise, but Steinhardt said he expected more defections to follow Van Drew’s.
“I think we’re going to find more and more Democrats want to become Republicans because they’re unhappy with the direction of the Democratic party,” he said. “We offer a common sense and logical place for them to land.”