Van Drew race speaks to U.S. political divide

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President Donald Trump meets with Rep. Jeff Van Drew, R-N.J., just before he switched his party affiliation, in the Oval Office of the White House, Thursday, Dec. 19, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)

President Donald Trump meets with Rep. Jeff Van Drew, R-N.J., just before he switched his party affiliation, in the Oval Office of the White House, Thursday, Dec. 19, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)

All across the country, election officials are counting votes  — not just votes for the presidential race, but for Congressional races, too.

In New Jersey’s 2nd Congressional District, U.S. Representative Jeff Van Drew leads challenger Amy Kennedy. But it’s a tight race.

Van Drew has been a South Jersey politician for over two decades, but this is the first time he’s run as a Republican. Last year, he did something that is rare in politics — he switched parties from Democrat to Republican and pledged his undying support for President Trump.

Why did Van Drew flip to the Trump playbook? And what does his fight to keep his seat say about the political divide driving the 2020 presidential election?

Our guest, WHYY New Jersey political reporter Joe Hernandez, breaks down a story that has received national attention.

Hear the whole story on The Why

Interview Highlights

Joe Hernandez on what led to Jeff Van Drew switching parties

 The House Democrats were gearing up to impeach President Trump. And Van Drew was one of two Democrats in the whole country who voted against it. He was always kind of a conservative Democrat. And that really started to show when he supported the president and voted against impeachment. And after that vote is when he switched parties. It’s now a kind of infamous moment.  He had this press conference in the Oval Office with the president. Van Drew is typically a pretty snazzy dresser. And he sat there next to Trump in a red tie now, with his pocket square and everything, and he pledged his loyalty to the president.

On Amy Kennedy

The Kennedy name is big, and it definitely played a role in this campaign. She married into the Kennedy family. She’s the wife of Patrick Kennedy, the former congressman from Rhode Island. He was the youngest son of the late Senator Edward Kennedy. But the family lives in Brigantine now. And Kennedy herself is from Atlanta County.

 Her family goes back there generations. She herself —even though she’s in the Kennedy family — she’s new to politics. She’s a former middle school teacher with deep roots down there. And she’s proved to be a pretty effective campaigner. During the campaign, she got endorsements from Governor Phil Murphy and from progressive groups. And her two big issues, according to her, are improving health care for South Jerseyans, which includes getting a handle on the pandemic… and also diversifying the South Jersey economy. 

On what the election says about the nation’s political divide

There’s been a shift in this blue-collar district, like there has in much of the country, from supporting President Obama to supporting President Trump. I talked to Rowan political science professor Ben Dworkin about this, and he says there’s a high likelihood that whichever candidate wins the presidential race will have their party’s congressional candidate come in on their coattails.

So this district tends to follow the president. A victory for Trump could mean a victory for Van Drew. A victory for Biden could mean a victory for Kennedy. But everything we think we know about politics seems to have been thrown out the window this year. So we’ll have to wait and see until all the votes are tallied.

 

 

 

 

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