Like most years, the state of the 2nd Congressional District's election picture opened up with the question of who on the Democratic side might step up to challenge Congressman Frank LoBiondo (R-NJ2). The incumbent congressman has traditionally had one of the easiest paths to reelection every two years.
This year started with the Democrats waiting on one person in particular to make up their mind about running: state Senator Jeff Van Drew (D-1). Van Drew has survived two straight tough election cycles in one of the more competitive parts of the state. He has been viewed as a strong candidate against LoBiondo and many have hoped to see him take the next step.
Bill Hughes, Jr., the son of former Congressman Bill Hughes, had already announced his intention to run on the Democratic side.
If Van Drew were to enter the race, he would have the power of the South Jersey Democrats led by Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-3) behind him. Besides the aspect of discussing such a run with family and close friends, Van Drew had to consider what he might be giving up if in terms of his growing position in the state Senate.
With Hughes in the race, it was a matter of if Van Drew ran or not before Democratic Party officials put their support behind a candidate.
After a couple weeks of mulling over what to do, Van Drew would ultimately decide against challenging LoBiondo this year.
Van Drew would state,
I want to express my sincere appreciation to the Chairmen of South Jersey for their unwavering support. It was very heartening to feel that level of support and loyalty. After much deliberation, I have decided not to run. The State of New Jersey is more challenged now than at almost any time in our recent history. I have the honor and responsibility of sitting on the Budget Committee, chairing the Community and Urban Affairs Committee, and Vice Chair of the Veterans and Military Affairs Committee. As a chairman of a committee and as a member of the budget committee I believe I am in a position in the State Senate to make a tangible difference in South Jersey. These decisions are never easy but I believe that at the present time this is the correct decision and wisest course of action.
Not as up in the air as Van Drew's decision was Governor Chris Christie's preferred candidate. The Republican governor has had LoBiondo's support going back to 2009 when Christie ran his first campaign for governor. Thus, Christie wanted to officially put his support behind LoBiondo as a sign of his admiration for his allegiance.
The fact is no matter who you are in his congressional district,…if you need help in Washington, D.C., Frank LoBiondo is there to listen and then work hard,” Christie said. “His priority is still New Jersey. There’s nobody that works harder. He loves this job and he does it extraordinarily well.
With LoBiondo in the process of building another reelection campaign strategy, Hughes would weigh in on his opinions of LoBiondo.
As Hughes would voice,
Frank LoBiondo is so concerned about losing his job that he had to run to Chris Christie to announce his 11th bid for re-election rather than come home to the district he represents to ask voters for another two years. Frank LoBiondo has lost his way, and he’s lost his way in Washington.
LoBiondo would respond by uttering,
If I were up here announcing a cure for cancer, they would accuse me of putting doctors out of work. Maybe they don’t like the idea that the most popular governor in the country is willing to take time out of his day (and give an endorsement).
With Van Drew out of the mix, Hughes would be joined by David Cole as the two Democrats battling for their party's nomination.
In announcing his candidacy, Cole would express;
We are still hurting from the economic downturn with over 12 percent unemployment – one of the highest in all of New Jersey. We need to catch up. Too many of our families, neighbors, and friends have been hit with layoffs, shrinking paychecks, and fewer hours on the job, and it's harder than ever for South Jersey residents to get back on their feet.
The path to nomination for LoBiondo has one small speed bump as Michael Assad is again challenging the incumbent congressman in the GOP primary.
With Christie in LoBiondo's corner, Sweeney along with Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop have strongly put their own support behind Hughes in hopes of him garnering the Democratic Party's nomination and potentially upsetting LoBiondo. Both Sweeney and Fulop are continuing to position themselves for 2017 as both are likely candidates to run for governor.
As with any campaign, in addition to endorsements; it is not surprising to see ads and messages for candidates. LoBiondo has become a target for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee especially with his stance on the Affordable Care Act, a hot button issue again this election cycle.
Of the six districts currently held by Republicans, this was the only receiving robocalls early on in the year.
In the call, the following is stated:
Congressman LoBiondo and House Republicans’ singular obsession with repealing the Affordable Care Act is one of the reasons that this Republican Congress is more reviled than at any point in modern history. If Congressman LoBiondo and House Republicans’ repeal plan succeeds, the consequences would be devastating for the people of New Jersey. Congressman LoBiondo wants to leave New Jersey residents at the mercy of insurance companies who would have free rein to hike their rates and deny coverage – even as Americans want the law improved, not repealed.
The National Republican Congressional Committee would respond by stating:
Nancy Pelosi's Washington Democrat allies continue to show how clueless, out-of-touch and dishonest they are by acting as if everything is fine and dandy with Obamacare. The fact is that the law is having a real and devastating effect on New Jersey families and small businesses and Congressman Lobiondo is working to make sure that the law doesn't suffocate economic growth and prevent New Jersey' middle class families from being able to afford the healthcare plans that best suit their needs.
If Hughes is ultimately the Democratic Party's nominee, he will need to rally his resources and support base as it will be a tough road to oust an incumbent like LoBiondo who will likely not sit back as he campaigns for another term.