SEA ISLE CITY, N.J. — Jeff Van Drew, a conservative state senator from Cape May County, won the Democratic primary Tuesday in deep South Jersey's Second Congressional District, besting three progressive candidates and setting up what is predicted to be a one-sided race against Republican Seth Grossman in the November general election to replace retiring Republican U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo.
Van Drew is seen by national Democrats as having a relatively clear path to election to the House in one of several districts in New Jersey that might combine to help Democrats take control of Congress.
Speaking to a crowd of supporters at the Lobster Loft in Sea Isle City, Van Drew claimed victory at 9:49 p.m., walking in to Bruce Springsteen's song, "We Take Care of Our Own," and saying he was "humbled and honored."
Washington is "broken," he said. "People don't talk to each other, they don't work with each other, and we know in our hearts as Americans that we can and we will do better."
With the support of the local and national Democratic Party machine and money, and a history of winning elections in Republican territory, Van Drew is well-positioned to flip the sprawling congressional district from Republican to Democrat, albeit as a Democrat whose positions on guns, gay marriage, and other issues have rankled progressives.
Van Drew will face Grossman, 69, an attorney and the winner of a four-way Republican contest, who upset front-runner Hirsh Singh, 33, an engineer and businessman from Linwood. Both men previously ran unsuccessful campaigns for governor.
Grossman, a former Atlantic City councilman and Atlantic County freeholder, ran on a platform of "Support Trump," blanketing the district with "Make America Great Again" lawn signs.
Van Drew, 62, a dentist who practices in a bright blue house on a residential street in Pleasantville and a volunteer firefighter, will likely appeal to moderate Republicans in the district, some of whom already were sporting Van Drew lawn signs outside their homes before the primary.
The district, which includes the cities of Atlantic City, Vineland, Bridgeton, all of Atlantic, Cape May, Cumberland and Salem Counties, and parts of Gloucester, Burlington, Camden and Ocean Counties, voted twice for Barack Obama, but narrowly went for President Trump in 2016.
It sent the moderate Republican LoBiondo back to Washington 12 times.
"I hope that I can be a force that works together with both sides," said Van Drew, who in his political career has been a small-town mayor, county freeholder, and state assemblyman and senator. "It's what I've always done. We're just too divided, and I think we can do better."
Van Drew, with support of all eight county party committees giving him coveted ballot position, appeared headed to a nearly 60 percent share of the Democratic vote.
Tanzie Youngblood, 62, a retired teacher and Blue Star mother, entered the race first, when LoBiondo had not yet announced he was retiring, but was abandoned by the state and national Democratic Parties after Van Drew entered the race.
Youngblood won the support of women's groups and the Black Congressional Caucus campaign committee, the endorsement of U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, and a contribution from Rosie O'Donnell. She was pictured on the cover of Time as an "avenger," a first-time female candidate inspired to run after the Women's March.
Late Tuesday, Youngblood said, "I fought as hard as I possibly could.
"Hopefully I educated and empowered a lot of people," she said. "Women, come out and run — don't be afraid."
Along with Tamara Harris, a candidate in the 11th District who faced a tough battle against former Navy pilot Mikie Sherrill, Youngblood was featured in a documentary called Grabbing Back. But she struggled to raise significant money, was unable to win the support of the powerful EMILY's List, and relied mostly on relentless social media, Jersey diner canvassing, and door-knocking.
Will Cunningham, 32, a former staffer for U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, portrayed himself as the voice of the future, a millennial who struggled economically as a child and still ended up in the Ivy League. He said he would have been the first openly gay black man elected to Congress, a journey he described as "from homeless to the House."
Cunningham also struggled with fundraising, though he was able to launch a direct-mail campaign and won over liberal pockets of the district.
The third candidate, Nate Kleinman, an activist farmer, entered the race last and threw $90,000 of his own money at commercials portraying him as a true progressive.
On the Republican side, Grossman defeated the conservative Singh, 33, who initially portrayed himself as someone with the personal resources to bankroll a campaign, but financial-disclosure forms showed a much more limited piggy bank. The other Republican candidates were Robert Turkavage, a retired FBI agent who was a moderate, and Sam Fiocchi, a former state assemblyman.
Van Drew's entry into the race kept stronger Republican opponents out, according to party leaders. As of May 16, Van Drew had raised more than $650,000 and had about $412,000 on hand. Campaign literature mailed to voters was paid for by a Democratic Political Action Committee, the Patriot Majority PAC.
In his victory speech, Van Drew mentioned opposing offshore drilling and supporting veterans' health care and the South Jersey economy. He did not mention gun reform, the issue that brought him the most friction in the primary.