President Donald Trump announced on Thursday that New Jersey Democratic Rep. Jeff Van Drew is, as expected, switching parties.
“Jeff will be joining the Republican Party,” Trump told reporters in the Oval Office, with the freshman congressman by his side.
The president then endorsed Van Drew’s reelection bid in New Jersey’s 2nd District, which went for Trump by nearly 5 points in 2016.
Van Drew, whose election to a GOP-held district last fall helped Democrats flip the House, was one of two Democrats who voted against both articles of impeachment against the president Wednesday night. He spent the evening on the floor, milling about and chatting with GOP members on their side of the chamber.
“I believe that this is just a better fit for me,” Van Drew said in the Oval Office Thursday. “This is who I am.”
Van Drew, who won the 2nd District by 8 points after Republican Frank A. LoBiondo declined to run in 2018, has always been a more conservative Democrat. He voted against some gun control measures and same-sex marriage in the state legislature. But since he’s been in Congress, the dentist has voted with House Democrats more than 80 percent of the time.
Rumors about Van Drew’s party switch began last weekend after he met with the president. The freshman congressman told his staff, some of whom then quit en masse. The Energy and Commerce Committee’s Democratic staff took them in temporarily, while Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy loaned some staffers to Van Drew’s office.
Van Drew’s vote against impeachment was hardly a surprise. He’d been one of two Democrats who also voted against an October resolution laying out the procedures for the impeachment inquiry in the House.
But his own polling suggested that may not have been a popular move among Democrats in the district, whose support he would have needed to win the nomination for 2020.
His campaign conducted a poll Dec. 7-10 that showed a majority of likely Democratic voters in the 2nd District preferred “another Democrat” besides him win the nomination, according to a partial polling memo obtained by CQ Roll Call. More than 70 percent of likely Democratic voters said they’d be less likely to vote for Van Drew if he voted against impeachment.
Van Drew took an implicit shot at Democrats who leaked that polling Wednesday night, saying he would never do that to someone else. He told reporters he had a 70 percent approval rating in his district, which went for Democrat Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012 before swinging to Trump.
Van Drew could still face a primary threat now that he’s running as a Republican, although Trump’s support would make things difficult for other GOP challengers.
Montclair State University professor Brigid Harrison had been discussing challenging Van Drew in the Democratic primary and announced her candidacy earlier this week.
“In switching parties, he violated the trust placed in him by all of those who voted for him, including me,” Harrison said in a statement after the congressman’s appearance with Trump on Thursday.
Van Drew had nearly $932,000 in his campaign account as of Sept. 30, according to disclosures with the Federal Election Commission, after raising and spending about $1.9 million in the 2018 cycle. House Majority PAC, the super PAC tied to House Democrats, asked Van Drew’s campaign to refund its $2,500 contribution.
Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales shifted the race from Tilts Democratic to Tilts Republican after the initial reports of Van Drew’s party switch.