Van Drew Democrats in District 1, Republican Chris Brown in 2nd

By HARRY HURLEY

Political Columnist

A consequential General Election will take place on Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2017. The stakes are very high for Atlantic and Cape May Counties.

In District 1, Democratic State Senator Jeff Van Drew is poised for re-election. His running mates, Assemblymen Bob Andrejczak and Bruce Land are also in good shape for re-election. The Van Drew team flies against any and all electoral currents that would normally make it nearly impossible for a Democrat to win in the Cape May, Cumberland and partial Atlantic County district.

National, state, county and local eyes are closely trained on Van Drew. Following this election, if Van Drew is successful, many political observers believe that Van Drew will run next year in the Congressional midterm elections. This would pit him in District 2 versus long-time incumbent United States Congressman Frank LoBiondo, R-2.

Van Drew has come tantalizingly close to challenging LoBiondo on at least two other occasions over the years. The political stars never quite came into total alignment. 2018 could be the perfect electoral storm. The political party of the incumbent President typically loses seats during the first midterm election.

LoBiondo is on the first-tier list of the Democratic National Campaign Committee as a targeted incumbent who they feel they can defeat. Van Drew is most likely the only Democrat who could pose a serious challenge to LoBiondo. LoBiondo is also likely to face a Primary challenge next year. Fair or not, there are many Republicans who feel that LoBiondo has not been adequately supportive of President Donald Trump, during and after the election of 2016.

Never sell LoBiondo short. Even after 12 terms, LoBiondo’s work ethic, seniority, powerful congressional committee chairmanships and his overall record of constituent service is exemplary. If Van Drew decides to challenge LoBiondo next year, it will be one of the most epic campaigns since LoBiondo defeated former State Senator Bill Gormley in the Republican Primary for the 2nd Congressional District nomination in 1994.

Another very important election is the state senate seat in District 2. Assemblyman Chris Brown remains an overwhelming favorite to follow the late Senator Jim Whelan. Technically, Brown would follow Colin Bell, his Democratic challenger, because Bell recently became Senator-select to fill the remainder of Senator Whelan’s term, through Jan. 8, 2018.

Some mistakenly believe that Senator Whelan’s unexpected passing serves as a political/electoral benefit for Bell. I strongly disagree. First, Bell is not Whelan. Whelan’s three plus decades of electoral success is not transferable.

The New Jersey Legislature does not meet again until after the General Election. Also, voters typically do not look admiringly at “accidental” office holders. Bell has lost his last two elections (New Jersey General Assembly and Freeholder at Large). He will not be given credit for winning the Senate seat. Bell is nothing more than the equivalent of a television commercial seat “warmer” at an awards show. When the rightful occupant arrives; you vacate the seat promptly.

Former Senator James “Sonny” McCullough actually served for a number of months (February 2007 to January 2008) during an open senate voting session. He actually had the opportunity to cast votes on significant issues. McCullough won the seat in a hotly contested special convention versus former Assemblyman Frank Blee, following Senator Gormley’s voluntary retirement from the state senate.

Senator Whelan went on to defeat McCullough in the general election of Nov. 6, 2007. McCullough’s appointed senatorship paid no electoral dividends, despite the fact that he had amassed an impressive voting and constituent service record. Additionally, McCullough has been a much more successful elected official then Bell, who has been unsuccessful in two consecutive election cycles that he has been on the ballot.

Bell has only a “fighter’s” chance to defeat Brown, largely because more than $3 million could find its way into District 2 from Camden County on his behalf. Powerful political potentates want this 2nd District senate seat very badly. This is because with it comes the control of powerful appointments, jobs and professional contacts.

However, the fact that Senate President Steve Sweeney, D-3 is facing a stiff challenge, this will directly impact the amount of money assigned to Bell.  

The Camden County money that does funnel to Atlantic County will be aggressively spent to attempt to re-write Brown’s life over the next few months. The relentless market saturation level advertising will hit eyes and ears in all mediums; print, radio, digital and television. They will portray Brown in the harshest light.

This political/electoral blueprint was first utilized against former New Jersey Assemblyman Kirk Conover. Conover was an overwhelming favorite to win re-election in 2005. This was the year that Camden County first flexed its powerful financial muscles in Atlantic County. More than $2.5 million powered Whelan to his upset victory over Conover.

This same strategy consistently delivered Whelan and Assemblyman Vince Mazzeo to success on election day. It’s very hard to defeat this kind of money avalanche. To his credit, Brown did defeat the money two years ago and was the top vote-getter in the legislative election of 2015.  

Harry Hurley is the president of Harry Hurley Consulting and Communications, LLC. He hosts the daily talk radio program “Hurley in the Morning” 6-10 a.m., weekdays on Townsquare Media, WPG Talk Radio 104.1 FM & 1450 AM, where he also serves as the senior programming consultant. Harry was elected to both the Philadelphia (2013) and New Jersey (2014) Radio Broadcasting Hall of Fame. He has hosted various programs for local television and is the editor and publisher of his news and information website, www.harryhurley.com. Send comments to HarryHurley@aol.com