Democrat-turned-GOP congressman who switched parties over impeachment holds on to seat


Rep. Jeff Van Drew conducts a news conference introducing legislation that would help offset expenses incurred by new parents in the Capitol on Wednesday, December 4, 2019.

(CNN)Democrat-turned Republican Rep. Jeff Van Drew, who last year abruptly switched parties and pledged his “undying support” to President Donald Trump, has won reelection, CNN projects, defeating Democrat Amy Kennedy, a former schoolteacher and a member by marriage of the Kennedy dynasty.

The result affirms Van Drew’s gutsy political bet that voters would not punish him for his party switch or his chummy relationship with the President, instead judging him on his own record representing New Jersey’s 2nd district and, before that, as a state lawmaker and mayor.

Kennedy, a political newcomer, had hoped to flip the script on Van Drew — presenting herself as an independent-minded problem-solver, while seeking to undermine Van Drew’s own reputation as a middle-of-the-road politician who acted without concern for partisan labels.

That brand had served Van Drew well in 2018, when he ran for and won a first term in Congress as a moderate Democrat. But it was unclear whether Van Drew could re-use his successful playbook under a new party banner, after his loyalty pledge to Trump and the GOP.

    Van Drew had reason for optimism; after all, his district went for the President by 5 points in 2016. Meanwhile, Trump’s endorsement all but guaranteed that Van Drew would be welcomed into the GOP fold — and indeed, Van Drew scored a featured appearance at a Trump rally in January and a speaking slot during the Republican National Convention over the summer.

    But Trump also complicated Van Drew’s fate as the President struggled in his own reelection prospects. As Election Day neared and Trump listed at the top of the ticket, Van Drew insisted he would not run away from his relationship with the President. Still, Van Drew attempted in the waning days of the campaign to reestablish himself as an independent voice, rather than a close ally of Trump, and to underscore some of their differences.

    “I vote independently,” Van Drew told CNN shortly before Election Day. “I’m the same Jeff Van Drew I always was.”

    Van Drew also sought to soften his expression of “undying support” to Trump, which was repeated ad infinitum in Democratic ads attacking the incumbent congressman. Speaking to CNN, Van Drew said “the words didn’t explain as well what I exactly felt,” and that he had meant to proclaim his support for the office of the presidency, not the President.

      Van Drew predicted that voters would “understand that when you’re in the Oval Office and you’re having a very exciting day and you’re making a little piece of history, that sometimes we all say things.” And with his victory, it seems he was correct.

      Voters also shrugged at Van Drew’s party switch, according to polling prior to Election Day. A Monmouth University survey in early October showed that just 35% of voters in the district were bothered “a lot” by Van Drew’s decision to become a Republican; meanwhile, 51% said it didn’t bother them at all.