In South Jersey’s 2nd District, Van Drew tops Democrats while Grossman gets GOP nod

New Jersey state Sen. Jeff Van Drew addresses the crowd at the Lobster Loft in Sea Isle City after winning the Democratic nomination to run for the congressional seat vacated by Republican Frank LoBiondo. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

New Jersey state Sen. Jeff Van Drew addresses the crowd at the Lobster Loft in Sea Isle City after winning the Democratic nomination to run for the congressional seat vacated by Republican Frank LoBiondo. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Democratic state Sen. Jeff Van Drew will face off against Republican Seth Grossman in November for the open seat in South Jersey’s sprawling 2nd District, which includes all of four counties and parts of four others.

U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo, the Republican at the helm of the district for the last 24 years, is retiring.

The district which has supported both parties in national elections could be a national test case for Democrats hoping to use dissatisfaction with President Trump to win enough seats in Congress to gain a majority.

In his victory speech at the Lobster Loft in Sea Isle City, Van Drew promised to bring a bipartisan attitude to Congress if voters sent him there in November.

“I don’t think it takes a rocket scientist — it doesn’t take a political genius to realize that Washington is broken,” Van Drew said. “People don’t talk to each other. They don’t work with each other.”

On the Republican side, Somers Point attorney and ardent Trump supporter Seth Grossman came out on top in a crowded field that had no clear frontrunner.

“Some said it would never happen. Some said it was foolish to even try. Some laughed and ridiculed,” read a statement on Grossman’s Facebook page. “But we the people, the real people, the people who pay the exorbitant taxes, the people who saw Seth Grossman fighting for the people for YEARS, knew. WE knew.”

The open seat is seen as a huge opportunity for Democrats to flip a seat long-held by the GOP, but the primary battle exposed a rift between party loyals bent on turning the seat blue and progressive voters yearning for more liberal candidates.

From the start, Van Drew has had the establishment behind him. Before he formally announced his candidacy, the Cape May County dentist had secured endorsements from the party chairs in each of the eight counties in the district. Van Drew, a state lawmaker since 2002, also has far-reaching name recognition in South Jersey as well as the backing of Democratic leaders, such as power broker George Norcross.

But some of his Democratic opponents criticized what they saw as a conservative streak in Van Drew’s record. He has voted against gun control bills and same sex marriage in the state Legislature.

The progressive groundswell however was not enough to defeat Van Drew, who triumphed with 55 percent of the vote.

The leading challenger to Van Drew, retired teacher Tanzie Youngblood pledged to keep an eye on him as he runs and if he serves in Congress. “I’m a Democrat and I will remain a Democrat,” she told supporters last night. “But I’ll tell you one thing. I want to hear my opponent, what he’s going to do.  I’ll support him but I’m going to be watching his you know what.”

Rob Zawatski contributed to this report.

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