State Sen. Jeff Van Drew debates against Republican challenger Susan Adellizi-Schmidt during 1st Legislative District debate hosted by Chambers of commerce of Cape May County, Vineland and Millville at Landis Theater Thursday, Oct 24, 2013.

State Sen. Jeff Van Drew, long rumored to be considering a U.S. Congress run, announced Monday evening he will sit out the 2014 race, clearing a path for Northfield attorney Bill Hughes Jr. to pursue the Democratic nomination in the 2nd Congressional District.

“The state of NJ is more challenged now than at almost any time in our recent history,” Dennis Township resident Van Drew, 60, said in an emailed statement.

He pointed to his chairmanship of the state Senate’s Community and Urban Affairs Committee, vice chairmanship of the Veterans and Military Affairs Committee and his membership on the Budget Committee. His decision comes shortly after Democrats announced their legislative committee memberships.

“I believe I am in a position in the state Senate to make a tangible difference in South Jersey,” Van Drew said in a statement. “These decisions are never easy, but I believe that at the present time this is the correct decision and wisest course of action.”

At issue is this year’s race for Congress. Republican U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo, 67, has represented the eight-county district since 1995, but the Ventnor resident has faced little significant opposition in winning re-election by significant margins.

Van Drew, D-Cape May, Cumberland, Atlantic, said in an interview that he spoke with family, friends, and Democratic state Senate President Steve Sweeney in making his decision.

Van Drew said he also contacted the Democratic county chairs, who had held off endorsing Hughes until Van Drew made his decision.

Van Drew’s decision may limit his congressional options, as age could become an issue if he were to run in the future. He would be nearly 65 years old at the end of the term that would be contested in 2016.

He said he wouldn’t rule anything out. “Politics is hard work, persistence and luck. And you just have to see how it all works out.”

Hughes, 46, said Monday night he was glad the issue has been resolved. “I am excited to be able to focus on the one thing that truly matters — exposing Frank LoBiondo’s record for what it is in the 2nd Congressional District.”

In the two months after announcing his run, Hughes raised $185,000 to take on LoBiondo. While the campaign said this was a record pace, it is far less than the $1.1 million LoBiondo also reported having on hand.

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