Van Drew’s weak win might make NJ-02 a top 2020 battleground

By Matt Rooney
Chris Brown (R-2)

Democrat Jeff Van Drew’s relatively narrow 52.3% to 45.9% victory in NJ-02 was never seriously in doubt, Save Jerseyans. What many establishment Republicans are asking themselves this week is ‘was it avoidable?’

I didn’t think he’d win, either. I also didn’t think he’d win the June primary (egg on my face and most other folks’ faces, too). But I did say back on October 29th that I wouldn’t be surprised if Grossman performed considerably stronger on November 6th than the 17-point margin predicted by Stockton University. Getting to a ‘real’ number in these sparsely polled districts is just too darn difficult. NJ-02 is also a Cook R+1 district, and I don’t think that designation adequately accounts for Trump’s strength in this rural, ‘working class’ South Jersey district which is loaded with farmers, small business owners, sportsmen, and folks who are not doing particularly well under Governor Phil Murphy’s far-left fiscal stewardship.

Trump won here in 2016.

Consider this too: now ex-GOP U.S. Senate nominee Bob Hugin — defeated by 9+ points state-wide by Bob Menendez on Tuesday — won EVERY county in his district except for Burlington and Camden which, cumulatively, account for only three towns; Grossman won the Burlco and Camden portions by a nearly 2-to-1 margin. The 6-3 GOP majority in the most populous county (Atlantic) is intact, albeit by a hair, and Republicans recaptured control of Salem County government by defeating GOP turncoat Melissa DeCastro, an incumbent Democrat freeholder.

This is NOT a blue districts, folks. At all. And while Grossman did lose Atlantic by double-digits, there’s one politician observers believe is perfectly-positioned to step fix that problem:

State Senator Chris Brown (R-2).

Congressman-elect Jeff Van Drew (D, NJ-02)

They reason that the war veteran, attorney, former municipal court judge, and incumbent legislator with populist appeal is the natural heir to Frank LoBiondo’s abandoned seat. Having survived multiple cycles of extreme-outspending by his Democrat opponents (led by Senate President Steve Sweeney), the plain-spoken and hardworking Brown inspires Republican dreams of South Jersey reconquest.

Brown could get a primary challenge from the right from Seth Grossman, this year’s controversial Van Drew opponent and vocally pro-Trump firebrand who came close to defeating the victorious Democrat missing only by a slim 6.4-point margin. Grossman did it with only about $200,000. Brown did, however, back Grossman when few others were willing to do so, possibly buying some good will were Brown to attempt to step in and clear the field.

It’s also possible that Van Drew’s less-than-strong performance will attract a well-heeled opponent. Plenty of potential candidates (inside and outside of the district) took a look at the district but passed earlier in the cycle, coming to the poorly-reasoned conclusion that the soon-to-be-former State Senator was invincible. Brown himself took a hard pass despite a concerted NJGOP/NRCC effort to recruit him. 

First? Brown will play field marshal of sorts for the GOP’s efforts to capture Van Drew’s neighboring and soon-to-be vacant LD1 State Senate seat as well as all four Assembly seats between LD1 and his own LD2, all of which are currently occupied by Democrats. Winning those races — especially the LD1 state senate seats — would set the board nicely for what Brown boosters hope will be the next step in the Senator’s political ascendancy in two short years’ time.