NJ Democratic Congressional Candidate Calls Out Her Party-Switching Opponent

When Representative Jeff Van Drew steps onto the stage at the Republican National Convention this week, he'll bear little resemblance to the lawmaker New Jersey voters anointed in 2018.

"That's not the person they elected," Amy Kennedy, the educator and mental health advocate running to unseat Van Drew in the state's 2nd congressional district, told Newsweek.

Van Drew was the first Democrat elected to represent the conservative area in Congress in 24 years. But the blue wave was short-lived. He was one of just two Democrats to oppose President Donald Trump's impeachment in 2019. Shortly after, the New Jersey lawmaker pledged his "undying support" for the president during a meeting at the Oval Office.

The public display of loyalty has been rewarded with a primetime speaking spot at the RNC. Van Drew is expected to speak on Thursday under the banner "Land of Greatness." Trump will cap off the four-day event later that evening by delivering his own acceptance speech from the White House.

"It's a favor to him and it may be helpful for his political career," Kennedy said of Van Drew's involvement in the GOP festivities. "But it isn't helpful to the people of South Jersey."

In fact, Kennedy said it was Van Drew's defection to the Republican Party that motivated her to run for office in the first place. Throughout the crowded Democratic primary, which she won by more than 40 points in July, she pitched herself as a progressive outsider running against the New Jersey political machine—in spite of her family name. She is married to former congressman Patrick Kennedy, the son of late Massachusetts senator Edward M. Kennedy.

Now, Kennedy said she no longer considers herself an outsider, as she shares a "common goal" with the national Democratic establishment. She praised presidential nominee Joe Biden for prioritizing unity during last week's convention, and criticized the RNC for its "divisive" messaging amid a global pandemic and nationwide unrest.

The contest between Kennedy and Van Drew is part of New Jersey's increased role as a stronghold of the Democrats' House majority. Just four years ago, the state's delegation in the chamber was evenly divided at six Republicans and six Democrats. After the 2018 midterms, there were 11 Democrats sworn into the chamber and only one Republican remaining. Van Drew's seat is on the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee's list of targets to flip in 2020.

Right now, polling shows that it's anyone's race. Political operatives in the state previously told Newsweek that despite the district going to Trump in 2016, the president's sinking popularity could be enough to take Van Drew down.

Two internal Democratic polls commissioned earlier this month found Trump and Biden statistically tied in the district, a significant drop for Trump after carrying it by 5 points in the last election cycle. Statewide, Trump's in even worse shape. The latest survey found him 19 points behind Biden, which begs the question: Do New Jersey voters have an appetite for Van Drew's upcoming speech at the president's convention?

"I think there's a level of curiosity," Kennedy said, noting that the appearance may provide some much-needed clarity for voters on Van Drew and his platform. She criticized her opponent for lacking a comprehensive plan to help constituents amid multiple crises, including the Covid-19 outbreak and economic recession.

"There's been a lot of confusion about who he is and what he stands for," Kennedy said. "It will be interesting to see how far his allegiance toward the president goes."

Newsweek reached out to the Van Drew campaign but did not receive a response prior to publication.

trump van drew rally NJ 2020
Congressman Jeff Van Drew joins President Donald Trump at an evening “Keep America Great Rally” at the Wildwood Convention Center on January 28, 2020 in Wildwood, New Jersey. Trump was in the Southern New Jersey town to show support for Democrat-turned-Republican Rep. Van Drew. Drew is facing a tough re-election race against Democrat Amy Kennedy. Spencer Platt/Getty