For the moment, Michael Testa’s campaign likes the fact that Rep. Jeff Van Drew (D-Dennis) is in Congress and not in the New Jersey statehouse.
The Cumberland County GOP chairman is seeking to oust State Sen. Bob Andrzejczak (D-Middle), a Van Drew protégé, to claim the two years left in Van Drew’s unexpired State Senate term.
“There’s no denying that Van Drew’s been a big vote-getter in LD1. We think having him removed from the mix — and he has been removed from the mix — Is a benefit to Michael,” Testa campaign consultant Chris Russell said. “The Van Drew brand has really crowded out all the Democrats in this district.”
Historically, Democrats saw no success in the first legislative district before Van Drew won his first term in the Assembly in 2001. He won that year by a single point, ousting five-term Assemblyman Jack Gibson (R-Sea Isle City) by just one percentage point.
In 2003, Van Drew was the top vote-getter.
In 2005, Democrats easily won both Assembly seats. Van Drew got roughly 9,000 more votes than his running mate, who got just over 7,000 more votes than the top Republican candidate.
The following cycle, Van Drew beat Asselta by 11 points to win the district’s State Senate seat for Democrats for the first time since New Jersey adopted the 40-district map in 1973.
Democrats in the first have lost a legislative race only once since 2007. Now-former Assemblyman Sam Fiocchi (R-Vineland), who mounted a brief bid at the Republican nomination to take on Andrzejczak before dropping out of the race, won a single term in the Assembly in 2013.
But, a source with knowledge of Democrats’ campaign in the first said that Van Drew hasn’t left the district in the lurch following his ascension.
The congressman has been quoted on Democrats’ door-knocking literature and is set to appear at the opening of a campaign office this afternoon.
“Van Drew didn’t go to Washington and forget the first district, right?” said Sam Rivers, campaign manager for the first district’s Democrats. “He’s been very helpful.”
Andrzejczak and his running mates, Assemblymen Matt Milam (D-Vineland) and Bruce Land (D-Vineland), are heading into the race with a significant advantage on name recognition. All three have held district-wide office for years, though Milam’s tenure has not been contiguous.
Meanwhile, Testa is a first-time candidate at public office, though he is Cumberland County’s Republican chairman. He also comes with some political lineage: his grandfather was the first directly-elected mayor of Vineland.
Testa is running alongside Lower Township mayor Erik Simonsen and Ocean City councilman Antwan McClellan.
A source involved with the Testa campaign said the Republican challenger is aiming to bridge the name-id gap with early spending.
The campaign is sending out targeted mailers, mainly to parts of Cumberland and Cape May Counties, meant to drive event attendance and to keep those voters engaged as the campaign wears on.
The Democratic source said Testa’s opponents are taking a different route and largely holding onto their funds until later in the race. The rationale is that voters will need less reminding once November is closer to hand.
Neither camp has put its case to voters onto television airwaves, though the Republicans are fielding some spots on social media.
On-the-ground efforts between the two sides are similar, with both camps seeking to engage voters by phone and at the doors ahead of September’s surge in electoral activity, but the Democrats are lending more focus to establishing campaign infrastructure whilst Republicans have put more energy into events.
The Republicans’ spending it partly aimed at heading off anticipated attacks over Testa’s work as a defense attorney the Republican source expects to be launched by the General Majority PAC, a political action committee with ties to South Jersey Democratic powerbroker George Norcross.
Though they said nothing about expenditures by General Majority, the Democratic source said their campaigns have been in contact with the state’s Democratic leadership committees, which have already made some in-kind contributions to Democratic re-election efforts in the first district.
It’s likely Republican leadership committees will also invest in the race — it’s one of a relatively-small number of competitive races in the state — but the Democrat groups are outpacing their Republican counterparts in fundraising.
Over the first half over 2019, Democratic leadership committees and the Democratic state committee brought in roughly $1.5 million, while their Republican counterparts raised $750,411.
Spending and cash-on-hand figures for the groups are similarly in Democrats’ favor.
Despite that, Testa has outraised Andrzejczak and his running mates.
In 20-day post-primary reports filed with the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission, the Republican reported having cumulatively raised $184,163.58.
His running mates, fundraising through a joint committee, reported raising $8,805.42 over the course of their campaigns.
The Democrats’ fundraising has rebounded after a lackluster showing 29 days out from June’s primary.
Andrzejczak, Milam and Land reported jointly raising a cumulative $155,174.21 in their post-primary filings.
The 1st has more registered 3,198 more Republicans than Demcorats, and Donald Trump carried the district by 9 points in 2016.