Will Cunningham, a chief investigator on the House Oversight Committee and Vineland native, is the latest Democrat to enter the crowded primary race to challenge U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew, R-2nd.

Cunningham called it “a rematch campaign against Jeff Van Drew” because he ran in the Democratic primary Van Drew won in 2018.

“It’s time the voice and will of the people is heard. That involves open and fair county conventions, with committee members actually having a say,” Cunningham said. “I’m going to be vocal. This is too important a matter for the machine to force a candidate on anyone. Last time they did that, and look what happened. They all have egg on their faces.”

Van Drew was one of just two Democrats to vote against both articles of impeachment against President Donald J. Trump, and a day later announced his switch from the Democratic to Republican parties in an Oval Office news conference with Trump.

Cunningham said he grew up in a single-parent household headed by his mom, who was and remains an hourly wage worker.

“My family has lived in Cumberland County for over five decades,” he said in an interview Wednesday. “I overcame a lot of struggle. Cumberland County is the poorest in the state with the highest teen birth rate. I’m a product of those statistics.”

His focus on education, and a state program that exposed him to college choices, allowed him to get an Ivy League education at Brown University, he said.

“With hard work you can achieve dreams and have opportunities in life,” Cunningham said. “I was able to have that. I’m lucky.”

He said he is entering the 2020 race with a consulting team, established donor network and a coalition of support from South Jersey voters and national progressives.

But he does not have the backing of the powerful South Jersey Democratic machine, whose leader is Camden’s George Norcross.

Already six of eight county Democratic chairs in the district, state Senate President Steve Sweeney and, most recently, Assemblymen Vince Mazzeo and John Armato, both D-Atlantic, have endorsed Brigid Callahan Harrison, a Montclair State University professor who lives in Longport.

Cunningham earned a law degree in 2012 from the University of Texas at Austin, after spending some time teaching underprivileged children in Texas with Teach for America.

He volunteered for Barack Obama’s 2012 presidential campaign, and later got a job with U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J. Most recently he has worked on the House Oversight Committee under Chairman Elijah Cummings, who died late last year.

As a chief investigator on the committee, Cunningham said he has worked to make prescription drugs more affordable, examined predatory for-profit colleges and worked to hold Trump accountable.

“In the past year and a half I was promoted and given my own subcommittee,” Cunningham said of the Oversight Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policies. “I was principally involved in planning and executing the Juul hearings (on marketing practices of the vaping company to children).”

He said his subcommittee’s efforts ultimately culminated in last week’s decision by the Trump White House to issue a fruit flavor ban on certain vaping products.

He said he also led the Oversight investigation into asbestos in Johnson & Johnson’s talcum-based baby powder.

Cunningham said he was homeless for a time as a teen after his mom lost her job. He said his mom is still an hourly worker in Cumberland County, making $11.50 an hour.

“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.”

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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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