A woman is likely to be the Democratic nominee for the 2nd Congressional District seat held by U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew, who is expected to soon change parties to Republican.
Longport’s Brigid Harrison, a Democrat and Montclair State University professor, on Monday afternoon announced she will definitely run, and Brigantine’s Amy Kennedy, a mental health advocate and former teacher who is married to former Rhode Island U.S. Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy, said she has formed an exploratory committee to consider mounting a campaign.
“My personal opinion is, I do think we should run a woman,” said Atlantic County Democratic Chairman Michael Suleiman. “I don’t like the optics of subbing one white male for another.”
But he said he’s “keeping my powder dry — staying neutral.”
Other names have surfaced as possible candidates, and most of them are female. They include Tanzie Youngblood, who ran in the 2018 Democratic primary and lost to Van Drew; Atlantic County Freeholder Ashley Bennett; and West Cape May Commissioner John Francis. Neither Bennett nor Youngblood responded to requests for comment, but Francis confirmed he will run.
“Many people have asked me to run again & I sincerely thank you for your support of our candidacy,” Younglood wrote on Twitter Dec. 15. “I’m going to take it into serious consideration now that @CongressmanJVD (Van Drew) has outed himself as a Republican & we are confident of beating him in a 1-on-1 general election.”
Van Drew has been in the national news for his reported decision to change parties from Democrat to Republican, after being threatened with lack of Democratic support if he doesn’t vote in favor of impeachment this week.
He has not made any announcement yet about the party switch, but on Sunday five key aides resigned from Van Drew’s staff, citing in a published letter his decision to become a Republican.
“It’s interesting, because Congressman Kennedy had informally promised his support a little more than a week ago to my campaign,” Harrison said of hearing that Amy Kennedy is considering a run. “I was taken by surprise on that.”
Amy Kennedy said she made her decision over the weekend after hearing Van Drew was leaving the Democratic Party.
“It’s an unbelievable change of events,” Kennedy said, and convinced her it’s time to get involved.
Harrison announced at mid-day Monday, citing her 20 years as a political science professor and law professor and her career as a writer of books on American politics.
“Those of us across South Jersey deserve a true leader, who ... will always put the needs of the district and its people before self-interest,” Harrison said. “Jeff Van Drew made a choice. He has ... sold his soul, cutting backroom deals with the White House. Whether you are a Democrat, Republican, or independent, the last thing the people of the 2nd Congressional District need or want is to elect a blind pawn for Donald Trump.”
She said the district needs someone willing to fight for a stronger health care system, strategic investments in infrastructure, and getting corporate special interest money out of politics.
Kennedy said she and her husband have supported Van Drew in the past, “but he has clearly lost his way.”
“Our nation is in crisis. Our political system is in crisis. Our environment is in crisis,” Kennedy wrote in a statement released late Monday. “We have serious unaddressed needs in our schools and in our mental health and addiction system. Our economy, though strong, is not meeting the needs of the underserved and middle class.”
Kennedy said real leadership is needed to overcome those challenges, and “I’m compelled to explore if my community wants me to do more by serving in the U.S. House of Representatives.”
Harrison said while the Kennedy name is well known, “I don’t know that is all that it takes in a district like CD2. Voters in South Jersey are looking for something different ... not part of the traditional elite framework of political parties. I think I present a perfect juxtaposition to that.”
Harrison is working now to get the word out about her candidacy, raise funds, hire staff and talk to elected officials, party leaders and groups in the district, “trying to line up support,” she said.
Kennedy is the mother of five children.
She grew up in a political household. Her father Jerry Savell was a Democratic Absecon councilman in the 1990s and an Atlantic County freeholder for one term in the 1970s.
Van Drew’s earlier “no” vote on proceeding with an impeachment inquiry, and decision not to support impeachment when the full House votes this week, angered many in the Democratic Party.
The 2nd Congressional District covers all of Cape May, Atlantic, Cumberland and Salem counties and parts of Gloucester, Burlington, Camden and Ocean.
Van Drew has repeatedly said it is up to voters to decide President Donald Trump’s fate, since there is a presidential election in a year, and that he has seen no evidence of treasonous or other behavior serious enough to warrant impeachment.
Three Republicans have announced they will stay in the primary, even though it may mean running against Van Drew as a Republican, if he does switch parties.
They include Brian T. Fitzherbert, 30, of Egg Harbor Township, an engineer and project manager in the defense and aerospace industry; David Richter, 53, who recently moved to Avalon from Princeton, the former CEO of Hill International in Philadelphia; and Robert Patterson, of Camden County and Ocean City, former senior adviser and acting associate commissioner of the U.S. Social Security Administration in the Office of Strategic and Digital Communications.
Patterson was defeated in the 1st Congressional District in 2016, running against Rep. Donald Norcross, D-Camden.