Democrat Amy Kennedy is holding a narrow lead in her campaign to unseat Republican U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew, according to a new poll, a sign of the party-switching congressman’s vulnerability in a competitive South Jersey district.

The Monmouth University survey released Monday found that Kennedy, a former teacher who lives in Brigantine and is married to ex-U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy, leads Van Drew among registered voters, 49% to 44%. That advantage falls within the survey’s margin of error. Van Drew, a longtime conservative Democrat who was elected to Congress in 2018, became a Republican late last year.

Almost half of independent voters surveyed said they were bothered by his party change. Independents also said they prefer Kennedy, 50% to 40%. Another 5% of voters polled said they were undecided. Among likely voters in a high turnout scenario, Kennedy holds a 50% to 44% edge, a margin she maintains even in a lower-turnout scenario.

“Cape May and Cumberland County voters got used to supporting Van Drew on the Democratic ticket,” said Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute. “This time around many of them are sticking with the party rather than the candidate.”

Kennedy campaign manager Josh Roesch said the poll was a sign that South Jersey’s voters are “hungry for change.”

“Amy has been to every county in the district, she knows that the people here feel abandoned and that they want a leader who will fight for them and not for their own self-interests,” he said.

Van Drew’s campaign manager Ron Filan dismissed the results of the poll.

Encompassing Atlantic, Cape May, Cumberland, and Salem Counties, along with parts of four other counties, the sprawling 2nd Congressional District is a battleground. More than 30% of registered voters aren’t affiliated with either party and despite being held by a Republican for more than 20 years before Van Drew captured it for Democrats, the district voted twice for Barack Obama. In 2016, voters backed Donald Trump by 1 percentage point.

In the Monmouth poll, Kennedy leads 54% to 39% in her home county, Atlantic. She also holds a 48% to 43% lead in Cape May and Cumberland Counties, which Van Drew represented in the state legislature for 16 years before his election to Congress.

Two-thirds of voters said they were aware that Kennedy was part of the storied political family from Massachusetts, but 60% said that connection had no impact on their support. Meanwhile, 20% saw it as a positive and 17% saw it as a negative.

Kennedy has been raking in campaign cash, raising more than $2.2 million over the last three months. She has aired $1 million worth of TV ads since winning the July primary, far more than Van Drew’s $150,000, according to the ad-tracking firm Advertising Analytics. Allied Democratic groups have spent another $1.6 million, with no significant investment from outside Republican groups.

President Donald Trump with U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew in the White House on Dec. 19, 2019, after Van Drew announced he would switch parties.
Abaca Press / MCT
President Donald Trump with U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew in the White House on Dec. 19, 2019, after Van Drew announced he would switch parties.

And in another sign that Van Drew is still paying a political price for his defection, the Sierra Club announced it is revoking its endorsement and backing Kennedy. Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey chapter of the Sierra Club, said it was the first time in the 128-year history of the environmental organization that it pulled an endorsement.

The group backed Van Drew in 2018 and initially stayed with him after he switched parties. But Tittel said Van Drew’s pledge of support for Trump, and the Trump administration’s rollbacks on environmental protections and regulations, led the group to conclude it needed to support a “true champion for the environment.”

“Jeff Van Drew abandoned South Jersey’s conservation values and legacy of wilderness protection in an effort to maintain his political career by tying himself to the most toxic President for our environment in the nation’s history,” Tittel said in a statement. “We no longer trust anything he says.”

Van Drew’s campaign didn’t comment on the pulled endorsement.