• January 26, 2020

Local Republicans excited to welcome Trump - Ocean City Sentinel: News

Local Republicans excited to welcome Trump

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Posted: Wednesday, January 15, 2020 9:49 am | Updated: 4:14 pm, Wed Jan 15, 2020.

Local Republican officials are excited about President Donald Trump’s planned Jan. 28 rally in Wildwood to support U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew — a former friendly adversary whom they are welcoming to the party.

Van Drew, of Dennis Township, was a lifelong Democrat before publicly switching parties to Republican last December over what he said were differences between party ideologies.

A self-admitted conservative Democrat, Van Drew, who represents New Jersey’s 2nd Congressional District, said he parted ways with Democratic leaders over his refusal to vote to impeach Trump. Van Drew was one of three Democrats to vote against impeachment, which rankled local Democrats.

On Dec. 18, 2019, the House of Representatives impeached Trump on two amendments: abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. Van Drew joined U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson of Minnesota as the only two Democrats to vote against the abuse of power amendment, while Van Drew, Peterson and U.S. Rep. Jared Golden of Maine were the only Democrats to vote against the obstruction of Congress amendment.

The next day, Van Drew met with Trump in the Oval Office and officially declared himself a Republican, pledging his “undying support” to the president. 

Van Drew will join other Republican officials and speak at Trump’s “Keep America Great Rally,” which will be held at the Wildwoods Convention Center. 

The rally begins at 7 p.m. with doors opening at 3 p.m., according to information from the Trump campaign. 

The last time a sitting president campaigned in the 2nd Congressional District was 28 years ago, when President George H.W. Bush stopped in Vineland in 1992.

Cape May County Freeholder Director Gerald Thornton, a Republican, welcomed the rally.

“It means a great deal to Cape May County and the recognition that the county and this legislative district is going to get with the president’s support and the support for Congressman Van Drew. I think it’s extremely important,” Thornton said.

Thornton noted that Trump is popular in Cape May County. In 2016, Trump won the county with 28,237 votes, or 57 percent, compared with 18,626 votes, or 38 percent, for Democrat Hillary Clinton. 

Republicans outnumber Democrats in Cape May County. According to the Cape May County Clerk’s Office, there are 28,981 registered Republicans, 16,938 registered Democrats and 26,226 independent or nonaffiliated voters. 

“We’re really exited about the president coming here,” Thornton said. “It’s quite a compliment to us and this legislative district that he’s making that effort.”

Thornton said he has worked with Van Drew for close to 25 years and has had a good working relationship with him. 

He described his relationship with Van Drew as “friendly political adversaries” when Van Drew was a Democrat. 

“We always worked together,” Thornton said. “I said to him that come September and October we do what’s necessary to fight our political battles but come the day after the election we’re back to doing business together again. That’s the way we always worked together. I was always happy working with him.”

Now that Van Drew is a fellow Republican, Thornton said it would be “helpful for Cape May County.”

“It would certainly give us a lot of recognition particularly with the White House and the staff and with the secretaries of the different departments in the Trump administration, which is extremely important,” Thornton said.

Atlantic County Republican Party Chairman Keith Davis called the upcoming rally “historic” for the state and region. 

“It’s not every day a sitting president of the United States visits your corner of the country, so we’re excited to have President Trump come in,” Davis said. “Obviously the primary purpose is to support Congressman Jeff Van Drew in his election effort as a new member of our Republican Party.”

Davis said the rally will provide “much-needed unity and momentum” behind Trump and Van Drew’s re-election efforts. 

He said Van Drew’s switch from Democrat to Republican has been a “boost” to the GOP.

“The reaction that I’ve received from many rank-and-file in our party has been overwhelmingly positive,” Davis said. “People recognize that Congressman Van Drew has shared many of our issues in his service in the Legislature and the Republican Party’s a natural home for him.”

Davis noted the real reason behind Van Drew’s defection was the impeachment vote. 

“He (Van Drew) didn’t think that the Democrats, (House Speaker) Nancy Pelosi and company made their case and was opposed to it, and the Democratic establishment back home told him ‘you either vote for impeachment or you will not receive the county line, you will not receive county party endorsement as a Democrat,’” Davis said. “That was too much for him to swallow and I don’t blame him. He was elected not by the Democratic Party. He was elected by the people of South Jersey and he went to Washington to represent our interests, not Republican, not Democrat, but all of us collectively. 

“It’s a shame we’ve gotten to the point in politics in this country when Democratic Party bosses are going to pick one issue and impose a litmus test on their elected officials and if they don’t vote the way they want them to, they’re going to be pressured and they’re going to be told what to do,” Davis said.

Davis called Van Drew “an independent-minded person” who will “vote the right way based upon his conscience.”

Democrats incensed at Trump’s appearance in New Jersey include Gov. Phil Murphy, who issued a statement critical of the event. 

“With the impeachment process continuing to unfold in Washington and unrest in the Middle East, the last thing President Trump should be focused on is coming to New Jersey to campaign for Van Drew,” Murphy said. “Doing so speaks to President Trump’s misplaced priorities and refusal to put what’s best for the country ahead of his own politics.” 

Van Drew’s campaign issued a response to Murphy’s, noting that the governor was on the list of reasons why Van Drew switched parties.

“I didn’t vote for him (Murphy) in 2017 and certainly wasn’t going to in 2021,” Van Drew said. “Murphy is totally out of touch with the hardworking middle-class families and retirees here in South Jersey who are benefitting from the Trump economy despite the governor’s best efforts to make New Jersey even more unaffordable. The only thing Murphy should be focusing on is working with Republicans and Democrats to find solutions to the problems he caused without raising even more of our taxes.”

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