Dismissing the idea that he is somehow “pulling the strings” in South Jersey’s first legislative district race, state Senator Van Drew (D-1) explained yesterday that it is simply the policy of those running on the party’s ticket to defer to their campaign spokesperson when it comes to “mudslinging” and “raw, unadulterated politics.”
“The policy has always been when it’s public policy issues, that deal with government, certainly both Assembly are going to answer those questions and be involved with them, and so will I if it’s appropriate for me to do so. When it’s questions of just raw politics and mudslinging, we came to the conclusion years ago, including in my campaigns,” that the campaign’s spokesperson would respond, Van Drew told PolitickerNJ during a hearing of the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee in the statehouse.
In LD1’s quickly-coalescing Assembly race, Van Drew was referring to incumbent Assemblyman Bob Andrzejczak (D-1) and Bruce Land, the two Democrats running with the default support of the senator’s South Jersey operation in November. Republicans have wasted no time in going after their opponents on the connection, seeking to paint Van Drew and the team’s campaign manager, Allison Murphy, as Andrzejczak’s and Land’s “handlers” and accusing them of refusing to let the candidates stand on their own merits.
At their kickoff event earlier this month, and later in a follow-up statement, incumbent Assemblyman Sam Fiocchi (R-1) and Cumberland County Freeholder Jim Sauro called out the Democrats on the issue, asking them why they chose to “surrender control of their campaign, and why they tolerate being told when they can speak and when they can’t.” They later pointed to an article in the Shore News Today that claimed Murphy “rebuffed” a request to interview Andrzejczak and Land themselves on the GOP team’s comments.
Van Drew does, at least, look to be playing a particularly involved role in the team’s campaign, despite the fact that he’s not on the ticket this year: last month, the leading Democrat unveiled the two candidates on a banner under his own name, and he has said he plans to campaign for the two just as hard as if he himself were running. But he said the job of responding to negative attacks from the opposing side has always gone to the team’s campaign manager — in this case Murphy, who said she had hoped to start the race on a positive foot but is now ready to roll up her sleeves if Republicans want to play that game.
“I was surprised. It was just, right off the bat, let’s be negative,” Murphy told PolitickerNJ. “Usually somebody proposes positive campaign. I just think it’s a sign of desperation.”
Van Drew said the team will “maintain a level of integrity” throughout the campaign.
“My guys, I have two combat, American war heroes. Between the two of them, they have three bronze stars, one purple heart, a soldier’s medal, and a whole list of other stuff,” Van Drew added. “They don’t really need to get involved in that and quite frankly I don’t either.”
But Republicans have also hit the Democrats on that front too, venturing to make the case that the medals and war-time accolades that Van Drew has so often touted on the campaign trail are not enough to qualify the candidates to deal with the problems facing the South Jersey district, which include unemployment and struggling small businesses. The strategy is a tricky one, because it risks offending the district’s sizable population of voting veterans, but it taps in to a feeling that many Republicans already have in LD1: that Van Drew has profiteered off the veteran label, first with Andrzejczak and now with Land (both are combat veterans, Andrzejczak of the Iraq War and Land of the Vietnam War).
At the GOP’s kickoff, a Korean War veteran who showed up in support of Fiocchi and Sauro went so far as to reportedly accused Van Drew of handpicking “people like Bob and Bruce because they have very compelling personal stories that he can exploit for political gain.”
But Van Drew said that if anything, the wartime experiences have made the pair more than qualified to lead in Trenton.
“I’ve been in business for 30-some years as a dentist with a private practice and payroll and so forth. But just because I can fix a tooth, doesn’t necessarily mean I have the leadership to be a senator. Just because the Assemblyman can put an irrigation system in your lawn, doesn’t mean that he has what it takes to be a leader in the state Assembly,” Van Drew said, referring to Fiocchi’s background in owning a small agricultural business.
Murphy noted that Andrzejczak has now been in the Assembly for almost two years, where he’s churned out a host of legislation improving conditions for South Jersey residents. And she said Land can stand on his 25 year career as a captain in the Department of Corrections.
“It’s just silly,” she said. “When [the Republicans] were starting their business in their 20s, or when they were starting to work for their family businesses in their earlier 20s, Bobby and Bruce were over fighting for our country. Are you going to fault them for that? Making decisions here is a lot easier than when you don’t have someone throwing a grenade or shooting at you.”
“It’s nice that they have business backgrounds, I do too. But when we’re talking about leadership, I think that’s the case we’re trying to make,” Van Drew added.