LoBiondo vs. Van Drew: will it happen?

Jefferson Van Drew will take his seat in the State Senate in January as the first Democrat to represent Cape May and Cumberland counties in the upper house under the current State Constitution. You have to go back more than fifty years, to the days of Howard Sharp and Elmer Wene, to find another Democrat from New Jersey’s deep South.

But how long will Van Drew remain in the Senate? He faces some pressure from Democratic leaders to run for Congress next year against seven-term Republican Frank LoBiondo, and people who know Van Drew well says he very much wants to be a Congressman.

Defeating LoBiondo would be a much bigger lift than taking out Nicholas Asselta, and if Van Drew decides to run, he won’t have much time to make a final decision. Raising money for federal races takes time, and he’ll need to find support in places he’s never run before, like Atlantic and Salem counties.

Remember, Van Drew can be both cautious and a risk-taker. He gave up his Cape May County Freeholder seat in 1997 to run for the State Assembly (against GOP incumbents Asselta and Jack Gibson) and lost narrowly. He passed on a 1999 Assembly bid and instead challenged an incumbent Republican Freeholder and won his old seat back in 2000. In 2001, he initially declined to run for the Legislature (the Democratic State Senate candidate, William Hughes, Jr., the son of the former Congressman and no friend of Van Drew, lost to veteran GOP incumbent James Cafiero by 440 votes) and entered the Assembly race during the summer – only after he saw poll results showing Democratic gubernatorial candidate James E. McGreevey running ahead of Republican Bret Schundler. He beat Gibson that year.

When Cafiero retired in 2003, Van Drew declined to challenge Asselta for the Senate seat. In an alleged deal that parties continue to strongly deny, Asselta ran unopposed for Senate, and Republicans were fairly soft in the treatment of Van Drew’s Assembly re-election campaign. In 2005, Van Drew helped fellow Democrat Nelson Albano to win the second Assembly seat.

Some pundits say it might be tough for Van Drew to run for higher office so soon after beginning is term in the Senate.

Back in 1995, U.S. Attorney Christopher Christie entered the race for the Republican nomination for State Assembly just three months after being sworn in as a Morris County Freeholder. Voters didn’t like his “I’ve accomplished all I need to do” attitude, and backed Anthony Bucco and Michael Patrick Carroll instead.

LoBiondo could face a real race next year even if Van Drew decides not to run, although the newly-elected Senator appears to be the strongest potential Democratic candidate.

LoBiondo vs. Van Drew: will it happen?