The fallout continues after word surfaced this weekend New Jersey Congressman Jeff Van Drew, NJ-02, is planning to switch from the Democratic to the Republican Party.

The change comes as Congress prepares to vote on the impeachment of President Donald Trump, something Van Drew has announced he opposes.

According to the New York Times, seven of Van Drew’s top aides have now resigned.

Trump met with Van Drew last week and has complimented him on Twitter for his “honesty.” With impeachment on the horizon, Trump praised the congressman again early Tuesday. “Congressman Jeff Van Drew is very popular in our great and very united Republican Party," the president wrote. “It was a tribute to him that he was able to win his heavily Republican district as a Democrat. People like that are not easily replaceable!"

During an event in Saddle River on Monday, Gov. Murphy, a Democrat, blasted Van Drew.

“I think it’s ridiculous. This is a guy who’s putting politics over the Constitution, putting cuteness over courage,” Murphy said.

Van Drew won his district over Republican Seth Grossman in 2018 — flipping a district that had been under Republican control since 1994, under longtime Congressman Frank A. LoBiondo. Van Drew took 52 percent of the vote to Grossman's 45 — a win that came after Grossman was disavowed by his own party for a series of statements seen as bigoted and anti-immigrant.

The latest state voter registration statistics show Democratic registrations only slightly ahead of Republican ones — though both are well outpaced by unaffiliated voters.

A Monmouth University Poll in late September found just 20 percent of independents in what the poll called "traditionally GOP districts, including Van Drew's, would be more likely to support an incumbents re-election if the incumbent voted in favor of impeachment. But 31 percent said it would make them less likely to support an incumbent.

 

At Monday's appearance, Murphy said Democrats and Republicans also differ on a number of other pressing problems.

“You’ve got healthcare, education, jobs, the environment, gun safety, women’s health, a whole range of issues that when added together defines who we are as Democrats," he said. Murphy said for someone on one issue, “running his life on polls apparently, cutting and running, I think is ridiculous, pathetic.”

“It’s a betrayal of the folks who stood for him," Murphy said. "Absolutely, this is a guy who said he was one thing. We’re going to win that seat in 2020.”

Ben Dworkin, the director of the Rowan University Institute for Public Policy and Citizenship, said it’s unclear what the reaction will be to the announced switch in the Congressional district Van Drew represents, because there hasn’t been any polling done yet — but it would seem unlikely that Democrats would be thrilled with Van Drew, so he’ll have to look to the GOP for support.

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“But the Republicans last week were fighting against this guy, raising money to run against this guy, and so it’s unclear that they will embrace Jeff Van Drew," he said.

Dworkin said Van Drew may win the Republican Congressional nomination, but it’s not inconceivable Republicans in 2020 will vote for Donald Trump for President, will vote Republican in the U.S. Senate race, “and then skip Jeff Van Drew cause they just might not like him and might not trust him.”

He added “time will tell how effective this party switch is.”

One rival for the GOP nomination for the seat says he's been told Trump will endorse Van Drew. While there's been no word on whether Trump will help Van Drew win the GOP nod in next June's primary or aid him during next November's general election, analysts say Trump's backing will be crucial.

“Whatever trouble in the Republican primary Jeff Van Drew might have goes away when Donald Trump throws his arm around the guy,” Dworkin told the Associated Press.

On Monday Montclair State police science professor Brigid Harrison announced she is a Democratic candidate for the 2nd Congressional District.

In a written statement, she said “Jeff Van Drew made a choice. He has repeatedly ignored the voices of our community and has instead sold his soul, cutting backroom deals with the White House.”

Harrison added “it’s time to put politics aside and do what’s right for South Jersey. We need citizens, not politicians.”

Van Drew's defection to the GOP got a thumbs-up Monday from Cheryl McCleary as she waited tables at a luncheonette in Surf City, on New Jersey’s Long Beach Island.

“I appreciate the fact that he’s staying true to his conscience,” said McCleary, an independent voter. “If you feel like you’re not in touch with your party on key issues, it’s a good thing to switch.”

Van Drew's decision came after a poll by his campaign showed that by 2-1 margins, voters in his district preferred alternatives to him in the primary and general election. The poll was provided by a senior Democratic aide.

“This is a guy who cut and ran away from the Democratic Party to protect his own skin,” said David Richter, former CEO of a global construction firm who's seeking the GOP nomination.

Richter said local GOP officials have told him Trump will back Van Drew, but says he thinks he can still defeat him.

“Anybody who runs on the Republican side is against the impeachment. I'm against the impeachment,” Richter said. “That's not enough. You also have to be someone who has integrity. You also have to be someone who stood up for Republican principles their whole lives.”

Van Drew, a former dentist, was a conservative state senator before he joined Congress, bucking Democrats on issues including gun control and gay marriage.

In his first year in Congress, Van Drew was among a handful of Democrats who voted against Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., becoming speaker. He and Minnesota Rep. Collin Peterson were the only two Democrats who voted in October against starting the impeachment inquiry, and both were expected to oppose impeachment this week, with perhaps a handful of others.

Overall, Van Drew has voted with Trump 7 percent of the time, according the data tracking website fivethirtyeight.com. That's one of the higher scores among House Democrats, and far beneath the lowest loyalty score for any Republican, which was 35 percent.

New Jersey Democrats were already bidding him good riddance.

“It's certainly not a profiles in courage award that he gets,” Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., said in an interview. He said he believed Van Drew was switching because his anti-impeachment vote would have cost him the Democratic Party's endorsement next year.

You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com.

(Includes material copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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