State Sen. Jeff Van Drew (D-1) said he runs every race as if he’s in a competitive contest, and doesn’t regard last month’s resignation of the Ocean City Democratic Club chairman as a significant statement about his re-election campaign.
“Ocean City is an overwhelmingly Republican town,” Van Drew told PolitickerNJ.com. “Historically, I have had good people who helped me get out the vote and worked on every aspect of the campaign. He’s never been part of that.”
Former Democratic Chairman Sam Lavner resigned last month, citing Van Drew’s vote in favor of pension and benefits reform as the culmination of his disgust over the senator’s voting record, which includes support for some of Gov. Chris Christie’s key initiatives.
“I’m not sure I would recognize him,” said the senator, who described Lavner as mostly a single issue candidate who in the past contacted his office to complain about Van Drew’s vote against marriage equality for gays and lesbians.
“He is very much focused – and his main concern with me – was over transgender and gay and lesbian concerns with my position on that issue,” Van Drew said. “He has never been involved in my campaign.”
Van Drew’s virtual no-labels calling card not only disillusioned Lavner but routinely unnerves progressives in the Democratic caucus, who have muttered to PolitickerNJ.com that Van Drew should change parties. But his approach usually proves effective come Election Day, when he pulls Republican allies and independents, or at least has in past contests.
He said it’s precisely his ability to work across the aisle and eschew partisan politics that made him only the third member of his party elected to the Cape May freeholder board, the only one re-elected to the state assembly from the first district and the only Democrat elected to the state senate.
“I am obviously a Democrat who has won against overwhelming odds, but at the same time, real people in the real world are pretty sick and tired of Democrats and Republicans,” said the senator, who’s running against Wildwood attorney David DeWeese four years after he defeated incumbent state Sen. Nick Asselta (R-1).
“People are eager to have people who stand up for what is right,” added Van Drew, dismissing the notion that Lavner’s disaffection is emblematic of a base problem.
Cape May Republican Chairman Michael Donohue doesn’t buy it, of course, and said he doesn’t believe voters will either once DeWeese drives his message.
“Jeff Van Drew sat through ten years of his party dismantling the State of New Jersey and he has to take responsibility for that,” Donohue said. “From McGreevey through Corzine, Jeff sat there, and that’s what he wants people to forget.”
For the record, Van Drew opposed Corzine’s 2007 tolls securitization plan, a major Corzine initiative.
A willing yes vote on Christie’s budget, and health and pension reform, a proponent of getting New Jersey out of the regional greenhouse gas initiative and backer of the governor’s red tape reform committee, Van Drew said he mostly agrees with Christie’s pro business approach.
“He’s on target – we cannot tax, toll and regulate this state to death,” the senator said. “We have to incentivize business and create jobs.”
His most obvious difference with the governor is on the millionaire’s tax, which the senator supports.
“I disagree with him on the millionaire’s tax,” Van Drew said. “I don’t think the millionaire’s tax is wonderful but it’s a fairness issue. Whether we’re senior citizens or folks paying college tuition, we have all taken a hit and because of that we require shared sacrifice. I don’t love the millionaire’s tax, I’d like to see it go away, but I think it’s appropriate in the short term.”
Commonly talked about as a future challenger to U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R-2), Van Drew won’t rule out a 2012 challenge when asked, but insisted his attention is only on 2011.
“I’m flattered people ask about it, but I am focused like a laser on the Senate and Assembly races,” he said. “Maybe I’m not the best multi-tasker.”
As they head for a general election face-off, DeWeese reported more money in the bank than the incumbent this month: a closing balance of $60,145, compared to Van Drew’s $55,796, according to state Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC) records. The GOP challenger reported $11,780 cash raised from June 1-27, and $2,028 spent, compared to $25,950 raised and $19,461 raised and spent by Van Drew, who historically has had ready access to powerful Democratic coffers.
Donohue said DeWeese will be competitive on that – and every other front in a contest state Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3) just this week identified as one that has his attention.
“We’re a battleground,” said Donohue, who said Van Drew’s friendliness toward Republicans won’t bar Gov. Chris Christie, state Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean, and the Republican State Committee from engaging in the 1st.
“We have to prove we can do the work on the ground and demonstrate that we are a legitimate campaign, and I am more than confident they will be here in the fall,” said the county chairman.
Van Drew said he will be ready.