Several candidates say they are running for the seat held by U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew, R-2nd, but Van Drew and one Democrat stand out as likely to win their respective primaries in June and face each other in November.
Republican Van Drew, 69, of Dennis Township, has the advantage as the incumbent — historically 90% are reelected nationally — and the support so far of seven of eight Republican county committees in his district, said John Froonjian, executive director of the William J. Hughes Center for Public Policy at Stockton University.
Salem County Republicans hold their convention April 2, so Van Drew is likely to garner the support of all eight soon.
Democrat Tim Alexander, 57, of Galloway Township, has racked up endorsements from several county committees and from big names like former congressional candidate Amy Kennedy and former Assemblyman Vince Mazzeo, D-Atlantic.
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“On the Democratic side ... I’d have to say Tim Alexander has the strong advantage. He has the line in multiple counties, including Atlantic, which is the strongest Democratic area for votes,” Froonjian said. “That counts for a lot in a primary. It is a party function, especially in New Jersey.”
The primary is June 7, and the general election is Nov. 8.
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The party line is the list of candidates endorsed by the county committee, who “bracket” together under the official party slogan.
Alexander is a civil rights attorney and former police officer, and a former Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office detective captain.
Former police officer Hector Tavarez, 56, of Egg Harbor Township, ended his campaign for the Democratic nomination after failing to secure the Atlantic County Democratic Committee endorsement. He announced his decision at the county convention Sunday and endorsed Alexander.
Lockheed Martin engineer Carolyn Rush, 60, of Sea Isle City, is staying in the Democratic race, she said at a candidates forum Tuesday night.
Rush and Alexander participated in the forum, hosted by the Stafford Township Democratic Committee at the Ocean Acres Community Center.
Congressional redistricting put southern Ocean County into the 2nd Congressional District. It had for a decade been in the 3rd Congressional District, now represented by U.S. Rep. Any Kim, D-3rd.
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“Coming out of the season I was supporting Hector Tavarez,” said Stafford Municipal Chair Helen Cocuzza when introducing Alexander and Rush. “Now I ... am personally endorsing Tim because it’s important to go into the primary day united. However, good for you, Carolyn, for staying in the fight.”
“I have a lot of the same ideas as Tim, but some are different,” Rush said, adding she believes it’s important for people to have a choice in the primary. “I am a problem solver and bridge builder.”
She said she will go to D.C. with a plan to get meaningful bipartisan legislation passed and build an economy that works for the middle class, while curbing climate change and promoting equality.
Rush said she was inspired to run for office after Donald Trump’s election in 2016, when she attended the Women’s March in Washington, D.C., and heard a speaker encourage women to run.
“It’s not something I’ve ever done before. I spent some time learning the ropes,” she said.
She admitted she is behind Alexander in developing support, as she got into the race almost a year after he did.
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Alexander said he started to think about running when he heard Van Drew debate Kennedy and say he didn’t think there was systemic racism in police departments.
Alexander, who is Black, said police shot at him and falsely accused him of a crime when he was 19. He had to work to clear his name and became a police officer, he said, to make change from within.
“I started putting a team together to run for Congress,” Alexander said.
Froonjian said the two have a similar amount of money in the bank right now, according to the Federal Election Commission.
Rush has about $20,000 to Alexander’s $17,000, Froonjian said. Alexander has raised and spent about $200,000, however.
“That’s enough money to run a primary campaign, I think,” Froonjian said, but not to spend money on television or other expensive media.
Tim Alexander, who is vying to be the Democrat challenger to U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew, R-2nd,…
“Tim Alexander does not want to be engaged in a primary battle. ... He needs to immediately begin raising money for fall’s general election,” Froonjian said.
Rush said she has been pressured by Atlantic County Democrats to leave the race, but she has no intention of doing so.
On the Republican side, Van Drew “does not have to worry about underfunded, little known primary challengers. He’s already looking forward to the general election,” Froonjian said.
One of the Republican candidates who had said he’d run against Van Drew, Air Force veteran Scott Hitchner Jr., of Elmer, has dropped out to run for county commissioner in Salem County instead.
Sean Pignatelli, of Downe Township, is running under the slogan “Protecting our Veterans and Farmers” in Atlantic, Cape May, Cumberland, Gloucester and Ocean counties. In Salem he will run under the slogan “Giving our Parents a Vote.”
Few candidates have yet filed their official petitions to get on the ballot with the New Jersey Department of State. The deadline to do so is April 4.
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As of Wednesday, only Pignatelli had filed his petition.
“Generally speaking, you have to say it’s a tough climate and a tough district for the Democrats,” Froonjian said. “One of the most important developments was Legislative District 2 turning Republican.”
In 2021, Republicans swept state legislative offices in Atlantic County and much of South Jersey, which overlaps with Van Drew’s congressional district.
“Democrats really need to pull votes out of Atlantic County to be competitive,” Froonjian said. “It’s got to strike fear in their hearts.”
REPORTER: Michelle Brunetti Post