By Matt Rooney
The NRCC pressured his consultants out of the race, and party leaders are closing ranks behind newly-converted Republican incumbent Jeff Van Drew (NJ-02), but David Richter doesn’t care.
The successful construction CEO-turned-GOP candidate says Van Drew is very beatable in June and he intends to beat him.
“I don’t believe that Van Drew, even with the President’s endorsement, can win a competitive Republican primary,” Richter, a native of sprawling South Jersey district’s Burlington county extension told me on the day after Christmas. “I have spoken with lots of Republican voters in the past two weeks and, despite their strong support of the President, they are not going to rubber stamp this decision.”
Van Drew’s only identifiable weakness as a Republican candidate is his record developed over many years as an elected Democrat. While considered a moderate Democrat during his time in Trenton and his first term in the House of Representatives, Van Drew has also staked liberal positions, too, whether it be his support for N.J. tax-and-spend budgets as a state senator or, recently, voting almost lock-step with Nancy Pelosi and his embrace of the radical anti-gun ‘Moms Demand Action’ group. Van Drew endorsed Cory Booker for president not long before his decision to bolt the Democrat Party over impeachment and the ensuing highly-publicized sit-down/endorsement at the Oval Office.
Win, lose or draw, Richter believes a coronation is antithetical to Republican principles.
“That’s how the Democratic Party works: George Norcross picks a candidate and then tells the party bosses who to support. You can see that now with Brigid Harrison,” Richter added. “But the Republican Party does not work that way. The voters in the Republican primary should and will decide who their nominee is.”
Richter and fellow primary candidates Bob Patterson and Brian Fitzherbert have all signaled their determination to remain in the race. Richter was in the NRCC Young Gun program; now that there’s a GOP incumbent, he’s been scrubbed from the website.
Even without party logistical support and his high-powered consultants Chris Russell (South Jersey’s preeminent consultant) and Larry Weitzner (of Jamestown Associates), Richter has enough personal wealth to stay in the primary if he can rebuild a new team that knows the ins and outs of campaigns.
The million dollar question: whether the Trump brand – and local Republican leaders’ reluctance to challenge it – is enough to de facto neuter any opposition to Van Drew. Ideology does seem to matter less to many Republican primary voters in the age of Trump. NJ-02’s long-time GOP representative Frank LoBiondo was a liberal Republican. If nothing else, a robust primary in NJ-02 would tell us a lot about where the party is at heading in 2020.