Decision 2020: Jeff Van Drew vs. Amy Kennedy (NJ-02)

Jack Comegno ’24

Jeff Van Drew Official Portrait 116th Congress
U.S. House Office of Photography/House Creative Services, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

I have been following the Jeff Van Drew vs. Amy Kennedy U.S. Congressional race for the New Jersey 2nd District. This race is being impacted by local issues, the Presidential race, and a difference in campaign money. Right now, the race is considered a “toss-up,” but a recent poll shows Kennedy in the lead by 6 percentage points. Will the incumbent, Jeff Van Drew, changing parties and becoming Republican help him, or will it show him as a traitor to the Democratic party, and possibly even “pull him down” because of President Trump’s low favorability ratings in the district?

This race appears heavily affected by local issues. Van Drew explained that he flipped Democrat to Republican because he did not like how Trump was being treated in the Russia investigation. Seeing that people were unhappy with the Democratic Party, and Trump’s approval rating going up, made this decision easy and made him feel confident. He obviously could not foresee the future, especially the terrible impact COVID-19 would have on New Jersey, or a perception that would grow amongst many locals that Trump mishandled the crisis. Now with this criticism of Trump, and the continuing pandemic, voters may feel differently about his perceived ties with the president. What appeared to be a smart, even strong move in flipping sides because of the number of Republicans in the 2nd District, now may cost him his seat because many appear disappointed with Trump.

Prior to running for office, Amy Kennedy was a middle school teacher and mental health advocate. Kennedy’s second marriage was to Patrick Kennedy, a member of the JFK family. They now have four kids and claim residence in the Jersey Shore town of Brigantine, New Jersey. She got involved in politics just this year on the platform of an “anti-establishment insurgent trying to ride the recent energy of the grass-roots activists” according to the Washington Post. After winning a primary battle against a candidate backed by the local, South Jersey Democratic “machine,” she has been endorsed by Martin Luther King III and Governor Phil Murphy.

In a recent debate, Van Drew said he was “adamantly against” mail-in ballots. Kennedy was fully supportive of mail-in ballots. The debate also brought up the movement to “defund” the police. Van Drew’s campaign has been harshly advertising that Kennedy’s campaign is in favor of the movement by stating that he stood with the police. In the debate Kennedy became heated with Van Drew and said that he had “cut and pasted” her platform points. She did mention though that the subject of police funding “merits conversation.” Kennedy was very frustrated at that point and retorted, “You took that and spun it, you’ve used that in every mailing.” This debate mirrors a national debate about police brutality.

They are polar opposites of the issue of systemic racism. Kennedy believes that racism is seen in employment, housing, education, and criminal justice. Van Drew thinks that there are “small pockets” of racism.

In the debate the question of a poll was directed towards Van Drew because it shows that more than half his district did not like that he switched parties. This loss of support is also being seen in campaign funding differences.

The race shows Kennedy at a 50%-44% win right now. Kennedy raised $1.4 million in the primary and now is seeing $2.2million in the 3rd quarter which a recent article, “NJ Election Debate: Van Drew, Kennedy Keep It Civil,” says is “an incumbent-like performance.” Van Drew only had $1 million in the bank in January and hasn’t announced the money he has raised since. He is most likely trying to raise money from Trump supporters.

Van Drew pleading his “undying support” to the President may have seemed good at the time, but it looks like he may have signed his death wish. It is hard to tell though with these “toss-up” numbers and polls can be wrong. The nation saw that in 2016, and only time will tell with the current races.

Works Cited

Kane, P. (2020, July 17). Analysis | The Daily 202: 2020 primaries reveal the atrophy of political ‘machines’. Retrieved October 15, 2020, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/powerpost/paloma/daily-202/2020/07/10/daily-202-2020-primaries-reveal-the-atrophy-of-political-machines/5f078a5c88e0fa7b44f717f2/

Shearn, Ian T., and Ian T. Shearn Contributing writer Ian T. Shearn. “NJ Election Debate: Van Drew, Kennedy Keep It Civil.” NJ Spotlight News, 9 Oct. 2020, www.njspotlight.com/2020/10/nj-election-2020-jeff-van-drew-amy-kennedy-2nd-congressional-district-debate-differences-civil/.

Tully, T. (2020, July 06). A Kennedy and a Professor Compete to Run Against a Trump Backer. Retrieved October 15, 2020, from https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/06/nyregion/Jeff-van-drew-primary.html

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