Atlantic City Christmas Parade

U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew walks in this month's Atlantic City Christmas Parade on the Boardwalk.

U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew’s switch from the Democratic to the Republican Party is eliciting strong reactions from both political parties in South Jersey, with Democrats demanding money back and the GOP cautiously welcoming him.

South Jersey Democratic county chairmen are calling for Van Drew to return recent campaign donations.

“Let’s not mince words. Congressman Jeff Van Drew must return contributions he received since his ‘NO’ vote on President Trump’s impeachment inquiry since he was capitalizing on his relationships with Democrats while planning all along to switch parties,” said a letter signed by the eight county chairmen in Van Drew’s 2nd Congressional District.

On the other hand, Republican chairmen in Cape May and Cumberland counties have said they respect Van Drew and will look to President Donald Trump for guidance on whether to support him for re-election as a Republican in 2020.

“We have had our differences, but have also worked together many times, crossing the aisle for the better of our common constituents,” Cape May County Republican Chairman Marcus Karavan said in a statement issued late Tuesday with 1st Legislative District legislators. He called the county GOP organizations’ relationship with Van Drew “long and complicated.”

“The eyes of the nation are on this story, and it is important that our response and reaction to it be measured, coordinated, unified and respectful, said state Sen. Michael Testa Jr., R-Cape May, Cumberland, Atlantic, who is also the Cumberland County Republican chairman. “After discussions with our municipal leaders and those in Washington, we have mutually agreed to follow President Donald J. Trump’s lead on this issue.”

Democrats were angry.

“Shameless Van Drew showed he lacked the courage to stand up for the American people and our U.S. Constitution when he officially became a Trump Republican,” they said. “It’s time for Van Drew to man up and do the right thing for once and return every dime he received since he sold us out.”

The eight Democratic chairmen who signed the letter demanding repayment are Michael Suleiman of Atlantic County, Brendan Sciarra of Cape May County, Steven Errickson of Cumberland County, Steve Caltabiano of Salem County, Sen. Fred Madden of Gloucester County, Sen. Jim Beach of Camden County, Joseph Andl of Burlington County and Wyatt Earp of Ocean County.

Van Drew voted against impeaching Trump in the House of Representatives on Wednesday, and was expected to soon announce his party change.

He was one of two Democrats who voted against the impeachment inquiry in October, which started a backlash against him from progressives in his party, and potential primary opponents began to appear.

Recently Suleiman sent Van Drew a letter telling him to either vote for impeachment or face a loss of party support for re-election. Soon after, Van Drew met with Trump in the White House, and key staff members resigned, saying they could no longer work for Van Drew because he was becoming a Republican.

Testa said Van Drew has been a moderate voice among Democrats for many years.

“This defection should be a wake-up call for the Democratic Party. It’s time to get over your Trump derangement, get down to business and focus on how we can help law-abiding, hardworking families in New Jersey and across America.”

Testa and Assemblymen-elect Erik Simonsen and Antwan McClellan, R-Cape May, Cumberland, Atlantic, flipped the district by winning the seats held by Van Drew and other Democrats for the past 12 years.

So far, Montclair State University professor Brigid Harrison, of Longport, and West Cape May Commissioner John Francis have announced they are running in the Democratic primary for Van Drew’s seat. Amy Kennedy, of Brigantine, the wife of former U.S. Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy, has formed an exploratory committee, she said Monday. Freeholder Ashley Bennett is also said to be on the brink of announcing she, too, is running in the Democratic primary for Van Drew’s seat.

Three candidates have also said they will stay in the Republican primary, even if Van Drew changes parties. They are Avalon’s David Richter, Ocean City’s Bob Patterson and Egg Harbor Township’s Brian Fitzherbert.

Van Drew has said he thinks impeachment is too divisive for the country, and the people should decide Trump’s fate via the presidential election next year. He has also said he hasn’t seen proof that Trump has done anything treasonous or rising to the level of an impeachable offense, but would support a censure of Trump.

Rep. Jeff Van Drew's 2019 year in Congress

Here's a look back at Congressman Jeff Van Drew's freshman year in Congress, representing deep South Jersey as a Democrat. He is expected to soon leave the party and join the Republicans. He first gained national attention for opposing  Nancy Pelosi as speaker, then for urging bipartisan cooperation to solve the government shutdown. He has gone on Fox News to reach conservatives in his right-leaning district, and most recently opposed impeaching President Donald Trump. But he has voted with the Democrats the vast majority of the time.

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U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew, D-2nd, joined Alaskan Rep. Don Young, a Republican, to introduce a bill reauthorizing the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery an…

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Staff Writer

In my first job after college got paid to read the New York Times and summarize articles for an early online data base. First reporting job was with The Daily Record in Parsippany. I have also worked in nonprofits, and have been with The Press since 1990.

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