Jeff Van Drew’s defection from the Democratic Party began with a vote against impeaching President Donald Trump and ended with a handshake in the Oval Office.
With his pledge of “undying support” for Trump, the freshman congressman from New Jersey unleashed the full fury of his former party and earned a quick embrace from the Republican president, who promptly held a rally for Van Drew in South Jersey, declaring it “Trump country.”
The apostasy set in motion a surprisingly toxic race that has become a moral crusade by Democrats thirsty for political payback in a state where they outnumber Republicans by 1 million voters.
“We’ve got to make an example out of this guy — kick his butt,” said Michael Suleiman, the Democratic Party chairman in Atlantic County, who helped to send Van Drew to Congress in 2018 during the so-called blue wave.
But Tuesday’s primary race among Democrats vying to run against Van Drew has split largely along the political fault lines that have divided the party.
On one side is Gov. Philip D. Murphy, who offered a late endorsement to the candidate with a celebrity surname: Amy Kennedy, a mental health advocate and former history teacher married to Patrick J. Kennedy, a former congressman and a son of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy.
On the other are two of Murphy’s political rivals, George E. Norcross III, a