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.”

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.

“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.”

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.”

Contact: 609-272-7219

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Twitter @MichelleBPost

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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