President Donald Trump will host a campaign rally in U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew’s district later this month, just weeks after the New Jersey congressman switched to the Republican Party and pledged his “undying support” to Trump.
Van Drew said he will accompany Trump on Air Force One and at the rally, which he hopes will boost his prospects in what has become one of the most closely watched House races in the country.
“One of the things that he promised to do was to come to my district,” Van Drew said in an interview Tuesday. “It’s going to be a President Trump rally, it’s going to go all over the place.”
The rally, scheduled for Jan. 28 at the Wildwoods Convention Center, will be the first time South Jersey’s 2nd Congressional District has hosted a presidential campaign rally since President George H.W. Bush visited Vineland in 1992.
Local politics-watchers had been waiting for signs that the president would campaign for the former Democrat following his party switch in the Oval Office last month.
Trump’s visit also comes as Van Drew is starting to reorient his political profile to be more attractive to Republican primary voters in his district. On Tuesday, Van Drew’s office confirmed to Politico that he will support a move to bring anti-abortion legislation to the House floor. Van Drew has had a 100% rating from the Planned Parenthood Action Fund.
Wildwood, and indeed New Jersey, may seem like an unusual choice for Trump, who usually hosts rallies in deeply conservative areas of swing or solidly Republican states. The bustling summer Shore town largely shuts down during the winter. The rally is likely to draw attendees from nearby towns or outside the state — some of whom may not be able to vote for Van Drew.
“If people are coming from outside the district [or] outside the state, people don’t know Jeff,” said Michael Suleiman, the Atlantic County Democratic Party chair. “These people aren’t going for Jeff, they’re all going for Trump.”
On the other hand, the “ripple effect” of the rally will “really cement Van Drew’s relationship with Donald Trump” for Republican voters, said John Froonjian, executive director of the William J. Hughes Center for Public Policy at Stockton University.
Political strategists said the high-profile rally in Van Drew’s district may be intended to help clear the Republican primary field for him. But his Republican challengers aren’t scared by Trump’s endorsement or his impending visit.
“I think it’s going to help Van Drew,” said David Richter, a millionaire business executive who was the Republican front-runner before Van Drew switched parties. “But I don’t think it’s going to help him enough to win the Republican primary.”
“My assessment of this race is, I’m a lifelong Republican running against a lifelong Democrat,” Richter said. “The president is very popular in South Jersey. But whether his coattails extend to Jeff Van Drew, I would be very surprised if they did.”
Van Drew was one of only two House Democrats to vote against the impeachment inquiry into the president’s dealings in Ukraine in October, a stance he touted in TV appearances that drew Trump’s attention and praise.
But his opposition to impeaching Trump incensed Democrats in his district. Last month, Van Drew learned from an internal campaign poll just how much his stance had imperiled his prospects in a Democratic primary. Within days, he was at the White House to finalize his plans to become a Republican.
While many local Republicans are skeptical of Van Drew, the national political apparatus of his new party is going to work for him. A Trump-allied political action committee spent $250,000 on TV and digital ads supporting him. And Richter has been shedding establishment support.
Van Drew had been a prized Democratic recruit to run for the South Jersey swing district vacated by longtime Republican Rep. Frank LoBiondo in 2018.
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 the vote each time he ran.