Rep. Robert Andrews’ fellow Garden State Democratic House Members called on the South Jersey Congressman to end his day-old Senate bid in a joint statement Tuesday, adding that his primary challenge to Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D) is neither realistic nor helpful to Democratic goals in the state.
But Andrews didn’t appear to be taking the message of his delegation colleagues to heart, releasing a statement of his own Tuesday in which he challenged Lautenberg to several debates and insinuating that the 84-year-old incumbent was “hiding” behind staffers and surrogates.
And with both sides appearing to dig in for a fight leading up to the June 3 primary, Garden State Democratic staffers on Capitol Hill predicted that this inner-delegation family feud is only going to get uglier.
“We would have liked it to have been a knock-out blow,” one senior New Jersey delegation staff member said of the joint statement that Andrews’ six Democratic House colleagues released. “The delegation was sincere in its hope that it would get Congressman Andrews out of the race.”
But with a hasty Andrews withdrawal unlikely, the source said the delegation is willing to take this fight all the way to June 3.
“We’re ready for a battle to ensure that Sen. Lautenberg is re-elected,” the source said.
And just how ugly is it going to get?
“A lot of that depends on how far Congressman Andrews wants it to go,” the staffer replied.
The lines of attack on both sides have begun to sharpen in the 10 days since Andrews’ interest in the Senate seat became known.
Andrews has been painted as an overly ambitious dealmaker whose moderate record may work for him and local political bosses in his Camden-based seat in South Jersey, but is out of line with the majority of Democratic voters in the Garden State. Lautenberg supporters have already begun playing up Andrews’ role in helping to pass the resolution to authorize the use of force in Iraq and are calling him a cheerleader who continued to help further President Bush’s policies after the invasion.
Andrews — who admits he’s the underdog in this fight — says he’s simply offering Democrats a choice in a year when voters have expressed an overwhelming desire for change. As he takes on the 84-year-old Senator, the 50-year-old Congressman is emphasizing his energy (if not his age) and says that voters should be given the chance to draw their own opinions on the two candidates through open debates. He has said he opposes a system that would otherwise simply hand Lautenberg another six years in office without voters getting to see where he stands.
One other soft spot Andrews has tried to shore up this week is the notion that his wife’s candidacy in his 1st district seat — which was backed by local party bosses — was a political deal made to ensure he has a safety net in case his Senate bid fails.
Andrews has said that win or lose, he’s not running for the House. And 1st district county party leaders have indicated that Camille Andrews, an associate dean of Rutgers University Law School, could act as a placeholder as they search for the best candidate to replace her husband.