NJ-02: Van Drew announces as N.J. GOP (still) lacks a coherent LoBo succession plan

He’s in, Save Jerseyans.

“It will be the honor of a lifetime to represent South Jersey in Congress, especially at a time when our country most needs consensus builders,” State Senator Jeff Van Drew (D-1) announced on Wednesday via a release published by POLITICO-New Jersey. “Expect to hear a lot from me during this campaign about finding common ground. It won’t be easy or always even possible, but that must never stop us from making the effort. The future of our democracy depends on finding ways around our differences, so that we can work together on all that we have in common.”

Van Drew’s bid to replace the retiring Frank LoBiondo (R, NJ-02) in Congress isn’t the surprise. It’s been anticipated for YEARS. Plural. 

What is a bit shocking, albeit also not a total surprise for those of us paying attention: the complete lack of a Republican succession plan.

It’s only the most tangible and egregious example of the complete party collapse experienced by the NJ GOP – and the South Jersey Republican cadet branch specifically – during the Christie years.

State Sen. Jeff Van Drew (D-1)

Leading names to replace LoBo in the Republican column presently include recently-defeated A.C. Mayor Don Guardian (favored by some Atlantic GOP Republicans) and Cumberland GOP Chairman Mike Testa. Both candidates boast strong attributes (Guardian is a “non-traditional” gay Republican with some name recognition and Testa is young and charismatic) but neither one has the ability, at present, to independently commit significant financial resources or party muscle to a fight with Van Drew. Further complicating the matter? Some Cape Republicans are expected to support their neighbor Van Drew, a phenomenon often evidenced in the Cape May County-based Democrat legislator’s LD1 campaigns going back to 2007, one which has repeatedly frustrated GOP opponents.

The math is tough especially without a lot of cash or party infrastructure. Whomever wishes to try and stop Van Drew at the ballot box needs to win or break even in Cape May (at the very least), significantly close the margin in blue Cumberland to offset underperforming on the lean-red Cape end of the map, and romp in the Gloucester, Salem, Atlantic and Burlington portions of the sprawling, largely rural and exurban South Jersey district. It’s no easy task.

Efforts by party fathers to recruit a “name” candidate into the race who could potentially change the math — like newly-elected State Senator Chris Brown (R-2) and Atlantic Freeholder Director Frank Formica of the Formica Bro. Bakery empire — have reportedly come up short. Brown wants to focus on his new job; Formica, we’re told, is savvy, knows the fundraising that’s required and isn’t keen to commit to that sort of endeavor. Can’t say I blame him.

How did all of this happen? At the heart of the likely Democrat takeover of this long-held Republican seat is the long-standing tactical alliance (the best word might be “understanding”) between outgoing Governor Chris Christie’s political regime and the South Jersey Democrat Machine. Regular readers know the basics. Christie regularly ignored or outright undermined South Jersey GOP candidates and senior party leaders (like LoBiondo) habitually prized self-preservation over party building. Hence the complete lack of a clear succession plan for LoBiondo’s departure in statewide Republican leadership circles AND a wide open primary for what SHOULD have been a lean Republican seat, all despite widespread speculation that LoBiondo’s departure was due any cycle (in other words, all of this should have been anticipated and planned for).

South Jersey Dems now stand to pick up a freebie House seat… by forfeit. The good work of guys during Mike DuHaime and John Farmer at last redistricting process? On the verge of being negated.

Pathetic and sad stuff, all of which will have consequences for not just New Jersey but the balance of power in Washington, D.C., unless Republicans in this state get their act together immediately.