CAPE MAY COURTHOUSE - The Cape May County League of Women Voters welcomed a packed house tonight for a debate between State Sen. Jeff Van Drew and his Republican challenger David DeWeese.
Dozens of residents from Cape May, Cumberland and Atlantic counties crowded into the historic Cape May County Courthouse for the debate.
Assemblymen Nelson Albano and Matt Milam also will square off this evening against Republican challengers Suzanne Walers and Sam Fiocchi.
Partisans on both sides stood outside the courthouse welcoming supporters to the debate, an annual tradition in Cape May County. New this year, the debate will feature questions posed both by the audience and the candidates themselves.
The senate debate features two candidates known for their silver tongues, debating for the first time in their race for the 1st Legislative District Senate seat.
Van Drew, D-Cape May, Cumberland, Atlantic, a dentist, has held prominent public positions as a Dennis Township mayor, Cape May County freeholder, state assemblyman and now as incumbent senator. Challenger DeWeese, a lawyer, is a former prosecutor and longtime municipal court judge.
Both candidates said they will do little to prepare because they are accustomed to answering questions on the fly.
“It’s what we do day-in and day-out,” DeWeese said of his role as a judge.
Van Drew said it is not easy to predict what kinds of questions candidates might get at these forums. The debate is sponsored by the Cape May County League of Women Voters, but the format this year also will allow candidates to question each other.
“They can ask about anything, why there’s a pothole in their local street, to solar panels, to fiscal responsibility,” Van Drew said. “It’s a broad spectrum.”
Political observers said this debate will be closely followed in the sprawling 1st Legislative District. It will be broadcast on radio station 98.7 FM, The Coast, and streamed live on The Press of Atlantic City website at www.pressofatlanticcity.com.
“I think they’ll be paying attention to it,” Cumberland County Democratic Party Co-Chairman Doug Long said. “This year there is a real difference in philosophy between the parties.”
Long said Van Drew has an Everyman appeal that works well in the 1st District.
“Jeff is very articulate and well-spoken, intelligent and has a great personality. That will shine through in this format,” Long said.
DeWeese said he plans to hold Van Drew accountable for decisions such as pushing Cape May County to take over the troubled Beesleys Point Bridge in Upper Township and his votes in favor of new state taxes and fees.
The debate will help him contrast his conservative views with his opponent’s, he said.
“He likes to hide and portray himself as a conservative,” DeWeese said. “We have exposed him for what he has been the last 10 years, a tax-and-spend Democrat.”
Cape May County Republican Party Chairman Mike Donohue said he expects DeWeese to fare well against Van Drew.
“Van Drew is a skilled politician. He uses the English language very creatively,” Donohue said. “I’m sure Dave can hold his own. But Dave is the new guy, the underdog. I expect it will be interesting.”
Cape May County Sheriff Gary Schaffer and Republican Freeholder candidates Kristine Gabor and Will Morey, who are running unopposed this year, will give opening remarks to start the evening. Assemblymen Nelson Albano and Matt Milam, both D-Cape May, Cumberland, Atlantic, also will debate Republican challengers Suzanne Walters and Sam Fiocchi.
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