As a converted Republican, U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew, R-2nd, must show the GOP he’s their guy, after almost 30 years of beating their candidates in elections.

Van Drew said Monday he is likely to vote similarly to longtime former Republican Rep. Frank LoBiondo, who was in office for 24 years before retiring and opening up the seat Van Drew won.

Van Drew will work with Republican colleagues and vote with them on some things, “but not on substantive issues that would change the quality of life for people in my district,” Van Drew said Monday.

A planned campaign event with President Donald Trump in the district as early as January, the first presidential visit since President Ronald Reagan visited Hammonton in 1984, should help cement Republican support. A location has not yet been chosen, Van Drew said.

And one thing will stay the same: He will continue to be a moderate in a political world dominated by progressives and conservatives.

“I never said I was an extreme left-wing liberal. I’m not an extreme conservative. I’m moderate to conservative and always have been,” said Van Drew, who was a member of the centrist, bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus as a Democrat, and has now applied for membership as a Republican. He’s also joining a group of moderate GOP members called the Tuesday Group.

In Congress, however, Van Drew voted about 90% of the time with the Democratic Party, according to Republican consultant Carl Golden, who worked for moderate Republican New Jersey Govs. Tom Kean and Christine Todd Whitman.

“It’s bound to change. The question is, how dramatically will it change?” Golden said of Van Drew’s voting pattern. “His voting record will become more conservative … but again more reflective of the beliefs and feelings of his district. He’s very much a ‘vote my district first’ kind of guy versus an ideology kind of guy.”

Golden predicted Van Drew may vote a lot like LoBiondo, particularly voting with Democrats on environmental issues but with Republicans on business and spending issues.

“(LoBiondo) was one of the leaders opposed to offshore drilling, which is something the Trump administration wanted,” Golden said, and Van Drew has also opposed it. “It’s a classic case where party loyalty conflicts with constituent beliefs. Frank had a lot of success — 24 years in Congress is a long time.”

Van Drew agreed.

“I think Carl’s example of voting to a great degree like Congressman LoBiondo would be accurate,” Van Drew said. “When I won originally ... a lot of people said there was a great number of similarities.”

Like LoBiondo, Van Drew said he would continue to vote in favor of measures to protect the environment, especially the ocean so important to tourism and fishing industries in New Jersey.

But he said he would also support bills like the one he voted for in October to preserve 400,000 acres of land in Colorado. It was opposed by Trump and most Republicans.

Van Drew is likely to differ from Trump on other issues as well, since he is pro-choice but does not support late-stage abortion.

As a Republican, he will continue to vote to support efforts to lower the cost of prescription drugs. He voted this month for H.R. 3, which passed the House with the support of Democrats.

Most Republicans opposed it, arguing it would stifle drug innovation.

“That’s going to need work anyhow. It’s not as good as it should be — it needs change” before H.R. 3 has a chance of passing the GOP-dominated Senate or being signed by the president, Van Drew said. “But I felt it was so important to put out a statement. We have got to start lowering drug prices, even though it was less than the perfect bill.”

In July, Van Drew voted with Democrats to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour because it was a way to protect New Jersey, he said.

“In New Jersey, we are already rolling into that,” Van Drew said of a law signed by Gov. Phil Murphy this year to raise the state minimum wage progressively to $15 per hour by Jan. 1, 2024. “New Jersey would be at a unique disadvantage with the rest of the nation — we were going to have a higher minimum wage than anyone else.”

He’d vote the same way on a federal minimum wage as a Republican, he said.

“These are complex issues,” Van Drew said. “We have to think with complexity when we work on them and not just have a reaction.”

Then there is the fact that Van Drew promised Trump his “undying support” in an Oval Office announcement of his party switch Thursday.

“There’s a difference between being a Republican and being a Trump Republican,” said former Van Drew Community Relations Director Durwood Pinkett, who resigned Dec. 14 after staff was notified Van Drew was switching parties.

He now works for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in Washington, D.C.

“I really believe Trump is on the extreme and the middle is where most of the people are,” Pinkett said.

The congressman used to tell him that only about 10% of the population was on the extreme right and another 10% on the extreme left, Pinkett said.

Yet, he said, Van Drew is already using extreme Republican talking points about a vote for Democrats being a vote for socialism.

“I don’t think it’s fair for him to take on talking points that create and help breed divisiveness in our country,” Pinkett said. “It’s fear-mongering, and I don’t feel fear and trying to incite in people a sense of fear is who Jeff really is.”

Van Drew said Trump understands he will vote for what is best for his district.

“Even people like Lindsey Graham and others, you hear them all the time when they disagree with the president,” Van Drew said. He, too, will express himself when he’s in agreement, and when he’s in disagreement, with Trump.

“I’m going to be the Jeff Van Drew everyone knows, since I’ve been freeholder, for God’s sake, and worked with an all-Republican freeholder board,” Van Drew said. “I’m the same person.”

Democrat Don Rogers, of Franklin Township, Gloucester County, said he’s disappointed Van Drew left the party.

“The first time he votes against Trump, Trump is going to turn on him,” Rogers said.

The 62-year-old said he’s afraid Van Drew will now side with the rich and cut Social Security and Medicare for ordinary people, he said.

“Unless you’re rich, the Republicans don’t care about you at all, and I don’t know how people have never seen that,” Rogers said. “But if it really looks like he’s voting his heart and going against Trump, then I would consider (voting for) him. But otherwise, no.”

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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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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