County GOP chairmen are putting increasing pressure on primary candidate David Richter to exit the race, saying his comments critical of President Donald Trump’s endorsement of U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew are hurting the party.
“Many people, friends and foes, have suggested I get out of this race and run for something else or somewhere else,” Richter said Saturday. “But those people underestimate my determination and willingness to fight for the people I want to serve in Congress.”
He also said his quotes in a Friday New York Times story did not accurately represent his views.
“The Times reporter clearly had an agenda, and several quotes were taken out of context or came across differently in print than I intended in person,” Richter said. “I have fully supported President Trump and will continue to do so throughout this campaign and in Congress.”
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Cumberland County Republican Chairman Michael Testa Jr. and Atlantic County GOP Chairman Keith Davis have both condemned statements made by Richter, 53, of Avalon, in Friday’s Times story. They were particularly concerned about Richter questioning Trump’s motives in endorsing Van Drew, R-2nd, after Van Drew switched parties from Democrat to Republican.
“I assumed I was going to win, and win handily. And that all gets upended,” The Times quoted Richter as saying. “Donald Trump did what was in the best interest of Donald Trump.”
In an email obtained by The Press, sent Friday to Atlantic County Republican leaders, Davis asked those who have endorsed Richter to reconsider.
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“I have always insisted that candidates honor President Ronald Reagan’s 11th Commandment: ‘Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican,’” wrote Davis. “From name-calling on CNN to now questioning President Trump’s motivations in endorsing Congressman Van Drew in The New York Times, it is becoming apparent that David Richter’s words are hurting our party more than they are helping it.”
In an interview with The Press last week, Richter made similar comments but was less pointed in attacking Trump’s motives.
“The president ... has endorsed my Democratic rival. Jeff Van Drew was not a strong candidate for re-election. He was going to lose in a Democratic primary or in a race to me. It was a mistake to have propped him up,” Richter said. “I understand why the president did it. It was a smart move for the White House.”
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Richter said the White House got good headlines and press coverage by getting a Democrat to flip “over an issue so personal to him — the absurd impeachment vote in the House.”
But Richter said Trump was “backing a guy I don’t believe is going to have the support of Republicans. ... The fact is Jeff Van Drew is simply too liberal to represent the Republican Party in next year’s congressional race.”
Richter said Sunday he will stay the race “to offer voters a real choice in the primary between myself, a lifelong conservative Republican, and Van Drew, a lifelong Democrat who is pretending to be a Republican because he is afraid of losing his job.”
Richter’s endorsements from some Atlantic County GOP leaders came before Van Drew switched parties last month in an Oval Office news conference with Trump at his side, a day after Van Drew voted against impeachment of Trump.
“I’m hopeful that those who indicated support for Mr. Richter will now reevaluate their early endorsements,” Davis said Saturday. “His actions are not moving our party forward.”
Testa, also the newly elected state senator for Cape May, Cumberland and Atlantic counties and co-chairman of Trump’s re-election committee in New Jersey, put out a statement Friday with co-chairman state Sen. Joe Pennacchio, R-Essex, Morris, Passaic.
“Accusing President Trump of abandoning his principles is the type of rhetoric you would expect to hear from his Democratic Socialist opponents like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, not an allegedly ‘Republican’ candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives,” Testa and Pennacchio said. “If Republicans can’t trust Richter to defend the president to a New York Times reporter, how could they ever trust him to stand up to Nancy Pelosi and other House Democrats in Washington?”
They were referring to a part of the story in which Richter hesitates when asked whether he believes Trump has stayed loyal to his priciples, then the reporter quoted him as saying, “No comment … And I don’t want ‘no comment’ to be my answer. No answer.”
“I tried to avoid and cut off her negative questions about the president, but my refusal to answer those questions came across as agreeing with them, which was not my intent,” Richter said Sunday.
Testa and Pennacchio said, “Van Drew stood up to the Democrats’ impeachment hoax and defended President Trump when it mattered most — that’s why the president will be in South Jersey later this month to stand with Republican Congressman Jeff Van Drew.”
Incumbent: Jeff Van Drew
Congressman Jeff Van Drew, R-2nd, made national news in his freshman year in Congress, which he started as a Democrat and ended as a Republican.
Long known as a moderate in the state Assembly and Senate, many thought Van Drew would continue to be a solid Democrat who occasionally deviated from the party on issues like gun rights, after he was elected in 2018 to fill the seat of longtime Congressman Frank LoBiondo, a moderate Republican.
But right from the start, Van Drew set himself apart by voting "no" for Nancy Pelosi for Speaker -- fulfilling a campaign promise but confusing those on the House floor. He was supposed to call out a name of someone for speaker, so his "no" vote was recorded as "present."
Then he was one of the few Democrats calling for bipartisan compromise on a budget to end what became the longest federal government shutdown in history. Later, he visited the southern border and came back saying there was, indeed, a crisis there. He supported both some funding for a border wall, and increased funding for housing and services to undocumented migrants. Van Drew was also one of just two Demcorats to first vote against proceeding with an impeachment inquiry, and to vote against both articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump.
And on Dec. 19, 2019, he announced his party change to Republican while sitting next to Trump in the Oval Office.
Dropped out: Brian Fitzherbert
Brian T. Fitzherbert (dropped out of race Jan. 24, 2020), 30, of Egg Harbor Township, founded the Atlantic County Young Republicans and ran in 2018 in the Republican primary, but withdrew before the primary that was won by Seth Grossman.
Fitzherbert stresses his knowledge of technology and aviation as an advantage for him to help develop those industries in South Jersey. He is a Program Manager for defense contractor L3Harris, working on multimillion dollar programs for military vehicles. Previously, he developed drones, ground control stations, electronic warfare testers, simulators, and area attack weapons supporting the Warfighter at Textron Systems.
He graduated from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, and completed his graduate studies at the Whiting School of Engineering at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, studying systems engineering and project management.
He has racked up endorsements from a wide variety of local officials, including former Assemblyman and Cumberland County Freeholder Sam Fiocchi and Northfield Mayor Erland Chau.
Switched districts: David Richter
David Richter, 53, the former CEO of Hill International in Philadelphia, is an engineer, lawyer and businessman. He recently moved to Avalon from Princeton, but summered much of his life in the Cape May County town.
He switched races to the 3rd Congressional District, which covers Ocean and Burlington counties, on Jan. 27.
“I understand what it takes to get things built,” said Richter. “In Congress, I plan to work hard to ensure the federal government is investing in South Jersey’s infrastructure — expanding our transportation network, keeping our environment clean and maintaining our coastline.”
Richter earned two bachelor’s degrees and a law degree from the University of Pennsylvania, as well as master’s degrees from Oxford and Harvard universities, he said.
He and his wife, Michelle, have been married for 20 years and have four daughters.
Patterson has homes in Haddonfield and Ocean City, and ran in 2018 against Congressman Donald Norcross, D-1st, in the district that covers Camden and its surroundings.
Patterson, a strong supporter of President Donald Trump, said he is running for Congress to protect conservative values and make South Jersey great again. His priorities are protecting American jobs, restoring manufacturing in South Jersey, ending unfair trade deals, and securing the nation's borders.
Patterson recently worked in the Trump administration as a senior adviser and acting associate commissioner at the Social Security Administration. Prior to that he worked as vice president for government relations at the U.S. Business & Industry Council (USBIC), an organization committed to strengthening U.S. manufacturing and opposing unfair trade deals.
Ashley Bennett, 35, a Democrat elected to the Atlantic County Board of Chosen Freeholders in 2017, faces re-election in 2020 as she runs for the right to challenge Congressman Jeff Van Drew, R-2nd.
A psychiatric emergency screener at Cape Regional Medical Center, she decided to run for freeholder after the 2016 election of President Donald Trump, and in response to a Facebook posting by then-Atlantic County Freeholder John Carman. It was about the Women’s March in January that questioned whether the women would be home in time to make dinner. Bennett ran for and won Carman’s seat.
West Cape May Commissioner John Francis, 73, has a colorful and unusual biography, and he wrote about it in a book published by National Geographic called, "Planet Walker: 22 years of walking, 17 years of silence." Francis spent many of his younger adult years refusing to ride in cars or other vehicles that use fossil fuels, after seeing the results of an oil spill on the Pacific coast. He also stopped speaking for 17 years, in order to learn to listen, he said. During that time, however, he earned a bachelor's, master's and doctorate, became an expert in oil spill cleanup, and worked for the Coast Guard. Now he travels the world as a motivational speaker, he said.
He learned in his silent travels about the interconnectedness of all issues, Francis said. "Really it's all about people and how we treat each other. It's going to manifest in the physical environment." So he said his focus in Congress would not just be on environmentalism, but on human and civil rights, gender equality and economic equity and human relationships "as the foundation for what happens in the environment. You have to be really interested in everything."
Brigid Callahan Harrison
Longport's Brigid Callahan Harrison, 54, is a professor of politics and law at Montclair State University in Essex County. She has been endorsed for by State Senate President Steve Sweeney, by six of the eight county Democratic chairs in the Second Congressional District, and by others.
Long a commenter in the media about New Jersey politics, this is Harrision's first run for office.
Amy Kennedy, of Brigantine, 41, is a former teacher and the wife of former Rhode Island Congressman Patrick Kennedy, with whom she has five children. She announced Jan. 6 she will run in the 2020 Democratic primary.
Kennedy, now a mental health advocate, said she and her husband have supported Van Drew in the past, “but he has clearly lost his way.”
“Our nation is in crisis. Our political system is in crisis. Our environment is in crisis," Kennedy wrote in a press statement. "We have serious unaddressed needs in our schools and in our mental health and addiction system. Our economy, though strong, is not meeting the needs of the underserved and middle class.”
Jack Surrency, of Bridgeton, is a Democratic freeholder in Cumberland County, was reported to be running for a time, but ultimately decided to run for re-election as a freeholder instead.
He was first elected to the Bridgeton City Council in 2010 as part of a slate headed by Mayor Albert Kelly, and served on the Bridgeton Board of Education from 2002-2010, according to his resume.
He attended the Tuskegee Institute from 1976-1978, majoring in chemistry with a business minor. He also holds a master's degree in Community and Economic Development from New Hampshire College in Manchester.
Robert Turkavage, 64, is a former FBI agent and manager out of New York. He has recently switched parties to become a Democrat, after a lifetime in the GOP.
Turkavage last ran in the 2018 Republican primary for the 2nd District race, losing to Seth Grossman, and this time is running as a Democrat.
He changed his party affiliation because the Republicans have increased the national debt by $3.1 billion as a result of tax cuts that benefited the wealthy, he said, and because of Prseident Trump's attacks on the press and the intelligence community.
“It’s going to be challenging,” Turkavage said Tuesday of breaking through in a crowded Democratic field. “I will be knocking on doors every day from January till primary day” on June 2.
Will Cunningham, 34, a native of Vineland who has worked for Sen. Cory Booker, D-NJ, and now works for the House Oversight Committee in Washington, D.C., announced Jan. 8 he was entering the Democratic primary for the 2nd Congressional District.
He ran against Van Drew in the Democratic primary in 2018, and said he has the most experience in Washington, D.C., of all the candidates in the race of either party.
Cunningham said he was homeless for a time as a teen when his mom lost her job. He said his mom is still an hourly worker in Cumberland County, making $11.50 an hour. Yet with hard work and the help of government programs, he was able to get an Ivy League college education at Brown University. He also has a law degree from the University of Texas at Austin.
"Despite my accomplishments, I have not lost touch with how folks struggle to make ends meet," Cunningham said. "I don't have to look far."