New Jersey State Sen. Jeff Van Drew said Wednesday he would run for the congressional seat being vacated by longtime U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo, giving Democrats an opening as they seek to take control of the House in next year's midterm elections.
"Expect to hear a lot from me during this campaign about finding common ground," Van Drew (D., Cape May) said in a statement announcing his candidacy. "It won't be easy or always even possible, but that must never stop us from making the effort."
LoBiondo, a Republican who has represented the Second District since 1995, said Nov. 7 that he would not seek reelection in 2018.
That prompted political prognosticators to declare the once-reliably Republican seat a toss-up. Then-candidate Donald Trump carried LoBiondo's district by 5 percentage points over Hillary Clinton in 2016, after voters there supported President Barack Obama twice.
Van Drew said Wednesday he wished Trump "would tweet less" but added that "it's important that a congressperson works with any president when they are doing the right thing for their district."
"If Trump happens to be doing something that is good for New Jersey," he told reporters on a conference call, "I have no problem agreeing with him."
"If he says or does something I think is harmful or hurtful, I'm going to speak up and say it's harmful or hurtful," Van Drew said. As an example, he said he opposes the GOP's proposed tax overhaul in Congress.
Republicans control both chambers of Congress and the White House.
There are no declared Republican candidates, according to Federal Election Commission filings, but House Republicans' campaign committee called Van Drew "Nancy Pelosi's hand-picked candidate."
The National Republican Congressional Committee accused Van Drew of pushing a "far-left agenda in Trenton" even as he sought to court conservatives by voting against legalizing gay marriage. "That's not going to play well among his party's rabidly liberal and uncompromising base," said Chris Martin, an NRCC spokesman.
Van Drew, a dentist who has served in the state Legislature since 2002, said he had the support of all eight Democratic Party chairs within the district, which stretches from Cape May and Atlantic Counties to Camden and Burlington Counties.
George E. Norcross III, the Democratic power broker and insurance executive, has pledged his "full support" to Van Drew.
Two other Democrats, Sean Thom and Tanzie Youngblood, also have said they will run. Thom, a school administrator, blasted Van Drew as a "career politician who does not espouse the values of our party."
In announcing his retirement, LoBiondo lamented growing partisanship in Washington, where he said a "vocal and obstinate minority within both parties has hijacked good legislation in pursuit of no legislation."