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The Don Norcross doctrine: Worked with Christie, can work with Trump

From across the table at a Cherry Hill Starbucks, U.S. Rep. Donald Norcross (D., N.J.) sounds like a guy fighting a tenacious winter cold.

U.S. Rep. Donald Norcross seems optimistic about the start of his second full term in the House.
U.S. Rep. Donald Norcross seems optimistic about the start of his second full term in the House.Read moreDAVID SWANSON / Staff Photographer

From across the table at a Cherry Hill Starbucks, U.S. Rep. Donald Norcross (D., N.J.) sounds like a guy fighting a tenacious winter cold.

But the grandfather of two looks fit and far younger than his 58 years; his smile is bright and his hair possesses the sort of preternaturally youthful hue Ronald Reagan made famous.

And Norcross seems optimistic about the start of his second full term in the House - despite a Republican revolution that has made Donald Trump the president-elect.

"Certainly, that wasn't the outcome I was hoping for," says Norcross, a Camden resident and lifelong Democrat, whose older brother is longtime party power-wielder George E. Norcross 3d.

"But I served in the state Senate with Chris Christie as governor," the congressman adds. "I've been learning to work with [different] people all my life.

"I will challenge the new president when he deserves it, and cooperate when it helps my district and the people in it.

"You can't always be in fight mode."

Last June, Donald Norcross faced a Democratic primary challenge from an underfunded and virtually unknown 25-year-old named Alex Law, who assailed the incumbent as being insufficiently liberal.

Norcross campaigned hard, beating Law in all but four towns in the district.

But rather than describing himself as liberal or conservative, he prefers to say his politics reflect those of his constituents.

"I represent my district," says the former electrician and union official, who grew up in Pennsauken and attended Camden County College. "That's my job."

Even some supporters see Norcross as having been elevated to elective office, first in the New Jersey Legislature and then the U.S. House of Representatives, due to his brother's influence.

Donald Norcross acknowledges that there is some skepticism about him "because of my name, the perception of my name."

But he adds, "I don't think I'm viewed [negatively] by people I meet with, the people I work with. They understand who I am."

Indeed, people I know and respect admire Norcross for being a quick study with a hands-on approach.

At one neighborhood construction project in Camden County, Norcross pitched in for more than an hour. Not for the cameras - the news media weren't present - but because "I love being out there with the folks," he says.

Norcross also has become a champion of saving the Hugg-Harrison-Glover house, a Colonial-era structure in the realignment path of Route 42 and I-295.

His high-profile advocacy has spurred official recognition of the historical significance of the house, and has helped build momentum for its possible relocation.

Personable, if a tad wary, Norcross is indeed somewhat difficult to peg, politically. He describes himself as an environmentalist, with a particular interest in the Delaware River, and is a marriage equality supporter and staunch backer of Israel.

A member of the House Armed Services Committee, he's also a consistent advocate for military veterans - one of several issues where he sees himself working with president-elect Trump.

"I want him to succeed. If we start moving forward, and we're keeping our country and our world safe, that's good news," Norcross says.

"But if he looks to privatizing Medicare, you're going to see me do whatever I can to stop that."

A member of the House task force on opioids, Norcross worries that Trump's vows to abolish the Affordable Care Act ("where's the plan to replace it?") could lead to less treatment availability in the midst of the nation's heroin epidemic.

"Just doing away with Obamacare isn't a win," he says. "It's a huge loss for our country."

kriordan@phillynews.com

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