Two Republican Challengers Want Van Drew’s Congressional Seat

Three Others May Be In the Wings
By Rick Mellerup | Jul 24, 2019
Supplied Photos From left, Bob Patterson, Brian Fitzherbert and Jeff Van Drew.

Surf City, NJ — It may be only July 2019, but the 2020 election season has already begun, and not just at the presidential level. Two Republicans have already announced they will seek the GOP nomination in New Jersey’s 2nd Congressional District, a seat currently held by freshman Democratic Representative Jeff Van Drew.

Robert (Bob) Patterson’s website says “he is running for Congress to protect our conservative values from the liberal elite and make South Jersey great again. He believes we need to protect American jobs, restore manufacturing in South Jersey, put an end to unfair trade deals, and secure our border. Most importantly, Bob believes the Second District deserves a congressman who will put the needs of South Jersey ahead of Washington and Wall Street.”

If that blurb sounds like something President Trump could have written, that would make sense because Patterson, 65, is solidly in Trump’s camp.

“Most recently, Bob was honored to work in the Trump administration as a senior advisor and acting associate commissioner at the Social Security Administration, where he implemented cost-savings in keeping with President Trump’s plan to streamline the executive branch.

“Prior to his service to President Trump, Bob worked as vice president for government relations at the U.S. Business & Industry Council, an organization committed to strengthening U.S. manufacturing and opposing unfair trade deals.”

Patterson’s connection with the GOP predates Trump. He served as a senior speechwriter for President George W. Bush’s administration.

This won’t be Patterson’s first dance as a congressional candidate. A Camden County resident, he ran against Democratic incumbent Donald Norcross in New Jersey’s 1st Congressional District in 2016. Patterson lost badly, with Norcross garnering 60 percent of the vote while the Republican was able to win only 36.8 percent.

But remember, the 1st District, dominated by Camden County municipalities, is the most reliable Democratic district in South Jersey. It has been represented in Congress by a Democrat since 1975, when a young James Florio, later New Jersey’s 49th governor, took the seat.

The sprawling 2nd District is a different animal. It includes all or portions of eight counties – Atlantic, Burlington, Cape May, Cumberland, Gloucester, Salem, Ocean (including all of Southern Ocean County save half of Stafford Township and all of Barnegat Township) and Camden. It is a swing district, represented in Congress from 1975 to 1995 by Democrat William J. Hughes and from 1995 to 2019 by Republican Frank LoBiondo. Van Drew took office in January.

Interestingly, the only Camden County municipality included in the district is Waterford Township. The address for Patterson For Congress is a P.O. box in Atco, an unincorporated community in Waterford. His website simply says the candidate and his wife “live in Camden County.”

Patterson will have to deal with a larger controversy than the question of his residency. In 2012 he had to resign from a $104,470 position with the administration of then-Pennsylvania Republican Gov. Tom Corbett. Patterson had also been working as the editor of The Family in America, a publication of the Illinois-based Howard Center for Family, Religion & Society, an organization that promotes the “child-rich, married parent” family. The Philadelphia Inquirer had discovered he had co-written an article that suggested condom use robs a woman of “remarkable” chemicals found in semen that have been shown to elevate mood and self-esteem. It went on to say that “semen-exposed women” perform better on concentration and cognitive tasks.” Corbett’s administration was not pleased.

How many women voters will that attract?

Young Republican

Running as Outsider

The other announced Republican candidate is Brian Fitzherbert of Egg Harbor Township.

Fitzherbert is only 30 years old, so, unlike Patterson, he doesn’t have to deal with any political baggage. And as so many young candidates do, he is, in part, running on his age.

“South Jersey needs new leadership to address the growing and dynamic challenges,” reads his campaign website. “It’s time a fresh candidate with new ideas tackles the issues facing the 2nd District; not the politicians of yesterday.”

That was an obvious swipe at Van Drew, 66, who, although he is a first-term representative, has been an elected official since 2002, when he was first elected to the New Jersey General Assembly.

So it isn’t surprising Fitzherbert is also running as a political outsider.

“He’s not a politician and (is) the ultimate outsider,” says his campaign website. “Brian can provide the necessary earthquake to shake up the system in South Jersey to fight back against career politicians who have nothing to show other than broken promises and failed policies.”

Fitzherbert brands himself as conservative. However, his website does not yet have a section explaining his views on the issues of the day. But he has hooked himself to Trump, saying in a statement that “South Jersey deserves a principled relentless conservative who will work alongside President Donald Trump to deliver the results that hardworking families need and deserve.”

Even though Fitzherbert says he’s a political outsider, he had dipped his toes into politics before. He’s chairman of the Atlantic County Young Republicans, and he ran for the 2nd District seat in 2018.

Fitzherbert’s first run for office started off well; he won the support of the Gloucester County GOP. But it ended when he was removed from the Republican primary ballot after his nominating petitions fell short of the required number by seven.

This time around, Fitzherbert entered the race far earlier and is building a much more professional organization. His 2020 campaign team includes Amanda Woloshen Glass, the campaign manager for former New Jersey Congressman Leonard Lance, and Ethan Zorfas and Evan Kozlow of Axiom Strategies. Zorfas served as Ted Cruz’s deputy political director in the Texas senator’s 2016 run for president; Kozlow once served as executive director of the New Jersey GOP, worked as the political director of a gubernatorial campaign, managed a U.S. Senate race and served as chief of staff on Capitol Hill for a member of Congress.

“The team is in great company with Amanda at the helm along with Axiom Strategies, given the firm has helped elect 78 current members of Congress,” said Fitzherbert.

The candidate also hired the Prosper Group, a national leader in digital advertising and online fundraising for GOP candidates that has contributed to the digital strategy of more winning campaigns than any other digital-first GOP consulting firm. And for the cherry on top, he hired Brett Lloyd of the Polling Co., a firm founded by Kellyanne Conway. Lloyd was recently fired by the Trump re-election campaign after internal polls that showed Joe Biden ahead in several key states were leaked to the press, infuriating the president.

Fitzherbert is an engineer and project manager in the defense and aerospace industry. After graduating from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, where he studied economics and supply chain management, he earned a graduate degree in systems engineering and project management from Johns Hopkins University. He has worked for defense contractors Textron Systems and L3Harris. He thinks his experience working for defense contractors will give him an advantage over Van Drew when trying to attract aviation and technical firms to the district.

Beating Van Drew

Won’t Be Easy

A couple of other Republicans are rumored to be contemplating a run for the 2nd District seat.

Seth Grossman, who may be even more of a conservative populist than Trump, ran against Van Drew in 2018, falling by 19,819 votes out of the 258,363 cast. That was closer than polls indicated, so Grossman might take another shot.

John Andrie, a Realtor from Sewell, Gloucester County, is also supposedly interested in tossing his hat in the ring.

The biggest threat to Van Drew, however, could be millionaire David Richter, former CEO of Hill International, the eighth largest construction firm in the country. Richter, 52, has formed an exploratory committee.

His credentials are sterling. Besides his business experience, he’s highly educated, a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. He remained at Penn to earn a law degree and also has degrees from Oxford and Harvard.

Richter’s main disadvantage is that he would assuredly be called a carpetbagger, considering he never lived in the 2nd District and currently resides in Princeton (he’s promised to move to the district if he decides to run). His main advantage is that he can easily self-fund his campaign while his Republican opponents would have to spend much of their time raising money, and, if it is a hotly contested primary, spending it, leaving the coffers of the winner bare (unless it was Richter) as he starts to square off against Van Drew.

Patterson and Fitzherbert would be starting from scratch. Van Drew, according to his filing with the Federal Election Commission, had raised $635,404.05 for his campaign by the end of June. And the pace of Van Drew’s fundraising is picking up – he had raised only $120,556.87 from Jan. 1 through March 31.

It will also be very difficult for any Republican candidate to lump Van Drew into the Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez wing of the Democratic Party. Van Drew is a moderate, maybe slightly right of center Democrat. In fact, he’s a member of the Blue Dog Coalition, a caucus of Democratic House members who identify as fiscally responsible centrists who also advocate for a strong national defense and bipartisan consensus. In today’s Democratic Party, that’s about as far away from “The Squad” as one can get. He’s also a member of the Problem Solvers Caucus, a bipartisan group of 46 representatives, split evenly between Republicans and Democrats.

Sure, Van Drew voted for a resolution condemning Trump’s tweets telling the members of The Squad to go back where they came from. Then again, every single Democrat in the House did so, along with four Republicans and one Independent.

But look at the generic press release he issued the day before the condemnation vote on July 16: “Elected officials need to stop with the name calling and hateful statements. Instead of focusing on real issues, we have heard all manner of appalling remarks from those who would rather distract from them. It is time to grow up. This behavior is shameful and disgusting.

“We were elected to work together and help keep this country the greatest nation in the world. We have major issues to tackle and we keep blocking our own path to solving them. Enough is enough.”

Or consider his statement of June 27, when the House was considering passing a Senate bill that would provide $4.6 billion to help provide humanitarian aid to the Mexican border.

“Today is the day that we must deal with the humanitarian crisis at the border. The U.S. Senate voted overwhelmingly – Republican and Democrat – liberal and conservative – 84-8. The aid for these children must literally start today. No bill is perfect but the Senate Bill is a bipartisan piece of legislation and we should pass it in the house as well and move forward. No Congressperson should be allowed to go home for July 4 until the issue is resolved and the legislation is passed. We have a responsibility and we must fulfill it. The fact that we are still arguing about and politicizing this issue is upsetting and unacceptable and quite frankly disgusting. We should not go home until this is done.”

The final vote in the house was 305-to-102, with 129 Democrats voting to pass it. The Problem Solving Caucus played a large part in pushing the vote through.

It is tough being a moderate and bipartisan Democrat these days. After the legislation passed the House, Rep. Mark Pocan, a Democrat from Wisconsin who is a chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, quipped on Twitter, “Since when did the Problem Solvers Caucus become the Child Abuse Caucus?”

Will progressives challenge Van Drew in the primary? Well, they did in 2018 and failed miserably. Three leftist Democrats garnered 12,757 votes to Van Drew’s 16,901, with his closest challenger, Tanzie Youngblood, checking in with 5,495 votes.

Van Drew obviously knows his district.

— Rick Mellerup

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