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Will Cunningham and Kate Gibbs are best choices for South Jersey primary voters | Endorsement

The Inquirer Editorial Board endorses Kate Gibbs in the 3rd Congressional District's Republican primary, and Will Cunningham in the 2nd Congressional District's Democratic primary. Election day is Tuesday, July 7.

Will Cunningham (left) and Kate Gibbs received endorsements from The Inquirer Editorial Board in the 2020 primary election.
Will Cunningham (left) and Kate Gibbs received endorsements from The Inquirer Editorial Board in the 2020 primary election.Read moreHandouts

The campaigns leading up to Tuesday’s New Jersey primary have featured a bitter battle among Democrats in the state’s 2nd Congressional District, and a bruising Republican fight in the 3rd Congressional District. Both districts sprawl from the Shore to the suburbs of Philadelphia. The incumbent House members, Jeff Van Drew (R., 2nd District) and Andy Kim (D., 3rd District), already put their districts on the national political map: Kim turned a traditionally red congressional seat blue in 2018, and Van Drew morphed from Democratic to Republican in January — gaining himself a moment with his idol on a Wildwood stage, and inspiring a small army of Democrats to run for his seat.

In 2nd District Democratic hopefuls Will Cunningham, Brigid Harrison, and Amy Kennedy, the Editorial Board believes voters have three worthy challengers to Van Drew. (John Francis III, a borough commissioner, and Robert Turkavage, a retired FBI agent, also are on the ballot.)

We endorse Will Cunningham. A lawyer in Vineland, he has raised less money and has less name recognition than his rivals. But Cunningham, 34, has significant experience on the Hill. He worked in the Washington office of U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D., N.J.) as a member of the health-care policy team, and also on the House Oversight Committee staff of the late U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings (D., Md.). We like Cunningham’s support for bold criminal justice reform. Cunningham’s is an inspiring life story — homeless while a Vineland High School student, he earned a Brown University scholarship. His is a generation whose time has come.

Although we respect Harrison, 55, an accomplished academic from Longport, she represents the Democratic machine at a time that demands fresh perspectives. Educator Kennedy, 41, of Brigantine, has a famous political name, but little political experience.

In the 3rd District, Republican voters have two potentially strong Kim challengers in Kate Gibbs and David Richter. Retired construction company executive Richter, 54, moved to Island Heights, Ocean County, to satisfy the residency requirement for the nomination. He is a cheerleader for President Donald Trump and planned to run in the 2nd District before Van Drew switched parties.

We endorse Kate Gibbs, a former Burlington County freeholder who works as the deputy director at the Engineers Labor-Employer Cooperative. A 33-year-old resident of Lumberton, Burlington County, Gibbs is a mainstream Republican more in sync with her politically diverse district. Gibbs is savvy, yet her down-to-earth manner has served her well while explaining that her arrests for shoplifting, marijuana possession, and beer on the beach were little more than a young person’s misadventures. We take Gibbs at her word when she claims to have learned from her mistakes.

In 2018, the Editorial Board endorsed Kim, who later won a narrow upset victory, and is running unopposed Tuesday. We also endorsed Van Drew, then a Democrat, in 2018. His opponent, Robert Patterson, declined to speak to us. But our editorial about Van Drew’s party switch stands: He owes New Jersey voters an apology. And on Tuesday, voters should choose Will Cunningham and Kate Gibbs.

Voters can cast ballots in person Tuesday, July 7, also the deadline for bringing their completed ballots to an official drop box, or for mailing the ballot.