Rep. Jeff Van Drew's switch from Democrat to Republican has upended a crowded GOP primary field in New Jersey's 2nd Congressional District — and Republicans promising to back President Donald Trump now must square off against a candidate the president has endorsed.
"I understand the decision of the president" to support Van Drew, David Richter, 53, one of three other GOP candidates in the district, told Politico for a Monday report.
"It benefited the president during impeachment week, when he needed a positive story — and a Democrat flipping to the Republican Party over impeachment is a good story.
"The problem is the narrative isn't accurate," added Richter, former CEO of the Hill International construction-management firm. "Van Drew switched parties because he was going to lose, and this is an attempt to save his own job."
Van Drew, 66, did not respond to a request for comment, Politico reports.
He was planning to seek a second term as a Democrat, but his support plunged when he said earlier this month that he would not vote to impeach Trump.
Van Drew unsuccessfully tried to shore up support — Democratic leaders abandoned him, Politico reports — so he then switched to the GOP and pledged his "undying support" to Trump while in the Oval Office seated next to the president.
The National Republican Congressional Committee immediately got behind Van Drew — and Richter soon lost his top campaign consultants and most of his staff to avoid conflicts with the national operation.
"The NRCC basically pulled them in and said, 'You need to be working for a Republican incumbent, and if you work for a Republican running against an incumbent, you'll essentially be blackballed from doing further work,'" Richter told Politico.
Chris Russell, one of Richter's former consultants, said his firm's decision to depart was "our choice" because "we felt it was a conflict."
NRCC spokesperson Michael McAdams, however, told Politico in a statement that the committee "doesn't blacklist consultants."
Others seeking the Republican nomination in the district are Brian Fitzherbert, 30, a defense contractor, and Bob Patterson, 66, a former Social Security aide in the Trump White House who edited a conservative academic journal.
But with four candidates seeking the GOP nomination in the district brings another danger, Politico reports: Voters could split their support among the challengers.
Monmouth University pollster Patrick Murray told Politico that the primary could become less crowded once local Republican leaders back Van Drew, which some local party chairs are doing.
"Right now, it looks like it's going to be crowded, but it could end up falling by the wayside if you have some key leaders ... coming out in support of a particular candidate," he said.
"If it happens to be Van Drew, you're going to see the entire party get in line by the April filing deadline."
The primary election is scheduled for June 2, 2020.
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