WILDWOOD – Tuesday’s presidential campaign rally was a quintessential Donald Trump event, with many audience chants from the 2016 race persisting into his re-election, the obligatory shots at the ‘fake news’ media, the exaggerations of how many ticket holders were stuck outside unable to get in.

But the visit was also a Rep. Jeff Van Drew production, and many people outside the Wildwoods Convention Center seemed aware that they had his party switch to thank – or blame – for the rare campaign stop in a place that hasn’t been a swing state for a quarter century.

Van Drew told the crowd of around 7,000 that when he visited the White House and committed to switch parties last month, he asked for one thing – for Trump to come for a campaign rally – and that the president didn���t hesitate.

“How about having the president right here in South Jersey? What a great day!” Van Drew said.

Trump heaped praise on Van Drew, calling him “a brave guy,” among other compliments.

“We are privileged to be joined tonight by a courageous leader who left the Democrat Party because he has had enough of their extremism, enough of their socialism and enough of their vile hoaxes and scams,” Trump said. “He’s had enough.”

Trump said Van Drew “had the guts to defy the left-wing fanatics in his own party.”

“And we called him. You know, ‘You’re our kind of guy, let’s go.’ And it didn’t take much because he believes like we do,” Trump said.

“A few weeks ago, Jeff was one of the few brave and principled Democrat lawmakers – in all fairness, we’ve been after him for a long time – who stood up to the House Democrats and the outrageous abuse of power that you see going on right now,” he said.

Some who attended the rally said they’ve been supporters of Van Drew though he was a Democrat.

“He doesn’t follow the party. He follows his heart,” said John Castaldi of Woodbine. “I’ve known him for along time, and I always said that he’s the most Republican Democrat I’ve ever seen.”

Others said they like him but that they’d never have voted for him as a Democrat. Josie Carroll of Ocean City says it’s about preventing Nancy Pelosi from remaining speaker.

“When I heard that he officially switched parties, I literally wanted to do cartwheels. I have not wanted to do cartwheels since I was 10 years old,” Carroll said.

Democrats remain livid, with some demanding contribution refunds. Wildwood resident Cassandra Gatelein, a co-chair of Cape May County Indivisible, said Van Drew’s party switch wasn’t a shocker to progressive groups in the district.

“We’ve known who he really was for years, back from when he was our state senator. We’ve been flagging him as problematic for years,” Gatelein said.

Helen Duda of Buena Vista Township is organizing a new group, CD2 Progressive Democrats, that hopes to help like-minded groups settle on a single candidate to back so their vote isn’t split in the primary. But the group’s main goal is beating Van Drew.

“Whatever Democrat wins the primary we’ll get behind,” Duda said. “The most important thing is taking the seat back in the House for the Democrats.”

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Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale said on Twitter that the rally resulted in nearly 93,000 people requesting almost 159,000 tickets. He said almost 73,500 voters were identified, more than 10% of whom didn’t vote in 2016, with 26% of them Democrats.


Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. Contact him at michael.symons@townsquaremedia.com.

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