Atlantic County Democrats have thrown their support behind congressional candidate Amy Kennedy, potentially boosting her momentum as she battles for the nomination to run against U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew.
Sixty percent of the county’s Democratic committee members voted at Sunday’s nomination convention to endorse Kennedy, a Brigantine resident, in the closely watched race for South Jersey’s Second Congressional District. The backing, which produced endorsements for all the races for the June 2 primary election, gives her a favorable ballot position that could elevate her chances of winning the nomination.
“That was big,” Kennedy told The Inquirer on Monday. “It was the first opportunity for an open and transparent convention. So for us it really felt like our message was resonating when people had an opportunity to hear us and got a choice in a candidate.”
Atlantic County is critical for any candidate running in the South Jersey congressional district. It holds 37% of the district’s voters and 41% of its registered Democrats. It is one of two counties whose Democratic Party committees had remained neutral in the primary race.
Six others had backed the presumptive front-runner, Brigid Callahan Harrison, a Montclair State University professor who entered the race shortly after Van Drew switched parties and became a Republican late last year.
Harrison, who received 73 votes at Sunday’s convention, came into the race with establishment support. Since then, she has gained backing from the likes of Sens. Cory Booker and Bob Menendez as well as key labor unions such as the Teamsters and the American Federation of Teachers.
Kennedy, a former public schoolteacher and education and mental-health advocate, has emerged as the leading “outsider” candidate, despite her pedigree as a member of a Democratic royal family. She has significant name recognition and the potential to tap into a powerful national fund-raising network tied to her husband, former U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy.
The district — which stretches from the Philadelphia suburbs in Gloucester County south to Cape May, and from north of Atlantic City into Burlington County — is a battleground: Trump won it by five points in 2016, while President Barack Obama got 53% of its vote each time he ran.
Republicans have nearly cleared the field for Van Drew. His most prominent opponent, David Richter, decided to run in a neighboring congressional district after Trump came to Wildwood and stumped for Van Drew. Another challenger, Bob Patterson, is still in the race.
Democratic candidates still running include Will Cunningham, a former Booker staffer, who received 21 votes on Sunday. Former FBI agent Robert Turkavage got two votes. West Cape May Commissioner John Francis III and retired banker Frederick John LaVergne did not participate in the convention.