The new year is likely to open with a visit to South Jersey by President Donald J. Trump to campaign for U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew’s re-election, now that he is a Republican.

“He is all in on this. So I would not be surprised if (the president) is in the district sooner rather than later,” said Bill Stepien, adviser to the Van Drew campaign and senior political adviser to Trump’s re-election campaign. Stepien ran campaigns for Republican Gov. Chris Christie and was White House political director in 2017 and 2018.

“Whether you love Trump or don’t love Trump, he is president of the United States,” Van Drew said, adding the visit will likely be in January or February. “It’s always an honor to have the president of the United States visit your state.”

And in spite of it being a presidential election year, there is little chance the 2nd Congressional District race will get lost in the mania around the White House. Instead, interest in the congressional race may well be fed by it.

Trump has endorsed Van Drew for re-election, tying the two together as they both run again.

“It has been my sense since this has begun I’ve gotten a huge amount of national attention,” Van Drew said of coverage of everything from his vote against Nancy Pelosi as speaker of the House last January to his votes against impeachment of Trump and his party change this month. “That’s OK. When I said I’d put South Jersey on the map, I didn’t necessarily mean this, but I did mean it’s not a place to be ignored.”

Political analysts say Van Drew’s actions have indeed elevated interest in the congressional race.

“I think this 2nd District race will be watched by political leaders nationwide. It would have been closely followed anyway because it had switched to Democrat after over 20 years of Republican representation,” said John Froonjian, director of the William J. Hughes Center for Public Policy at Stockton University.

Froonjian predicted it will be an expensive race with outside money likely to be a factor.

It has already begun.

A super PAC called the Committee to Defend the President spent $250,000 for a week after the party switch, airing a “Thank Van Drew” television ad praising the congressman for bucking his party, supporting Trump and becoming a Republican.

Van Drew said it resulted in an overwhelming number of calls to his district office, most in support of his actions.

On Thursday, Van Drew’s campaign announced it had hired Ron Filan, 31, of Upper Township, as his re-election campaign manager. Filan, despite his young age, has already run successful campaigns for Van Drew’s predecessor, Republican U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo, and for now-Sen. Chris Brown, R-Atlantic, when he ran for Assembly.

Froonjian called Filan “a major player in the New Jersey Republican establishment.”

Van Drew is preparing for a possible rough primary election June 2, followed by an intense general election Nov. 3. So far, none of the three announced primary candidates in the Republican primary — Brian Fitzherbert, Bob Patterson and David Richter — have dropped out, in spite of Trump’s endorsement of Van Drew, who announced his party switch in an Oval Office news conference Dec. 19.

“Republican primary candidates are not stepping aside, so this will not be a coronation for Congressman Van Drew. He will have to convince many that his conversion was not just a survival strategy and that he will represent Republican principles,” Froonjian said.

He called the Trump endorsement valuable in a GOP primary, and said some Republican voters are already comfortable voting for Van Drew.

“With his name recognition and a healthy campaign fund, he has some strengths,” Froonjian said.

Van Drew said he will continue to focus on legislative priorities next year, as he juggles the political side.

“It’s something I’m used to. I was a dentist, a state senator and handling political things,” Van Drew said. “The priority always was to make sure to take care of public policy and government work. It’s why you have really smart, sharp people with you.”

His top legislative priorities include getting a bill passed to lower prescription drug prices. He voted in favor of H.R. 3, which among other things would allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices with pharmaceutical companies, but has said the bill still needs work to get it passed by the Senate and signed by the president.

Other issues he will focus on next year include election security and veterans services, he said.

“I worry about some of the election equipment we have now. Nationally I’d like to see uniformity and security,” Van Drew said.

But there are always surprises, he said.

“Whatever we’re expecting, I’m sure it will be a little bit different,” Van Drew said. “I hope to have a good campaign, to discuss real issues, real ideas and really bring America forward. And put South Jersey on the map, like I always say.”

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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