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Ratings change: Van Drew going Republican tilts NJ race to GOP

Primary may still loom for freshman, who won district carried by Trump in ’16 and Obama in ’08 and ’12

New Jersey Rep. Jeff Van Drew, who is preparing to switch parties from Democrat to Republican, reacts after drawing a disappointing number during the new member lottery draw for office space in Rayburn Building weeks after winning his seat in November 2018. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

As if impeachment wasn’t providing enough news, New Jersey Rep. Jeff Van Drew has decided to switch parties. Even though it’s not quite official, more than half of his staff resigning should be a significant clue.

His decision changes the partisan makeup in the House by one seat without fundamentally altering the 2020 fight for the majority.

Van Drew was facing pressure from the left for not being progressive enough and pressure from the right because he represents a district Donald Trump carried in 2016, with votes on two articles of impeachment on the horizon. So the congressman has told colleagues and aides he will switch from the Democratic Party to the Republican Party.

Van Drew, who reportedly had a meeting at the White House on Friday, will likely face competitive primary and general elections in the 2nd District in southern New Jersey.

It’s too early to tell whether Van Drew will clear the primary field of the Republicans who were gearing up to challenge him in the general election up to this point. It’s also unclear if Trump offered to support Van Drew in the primary as a condition of his party switch, although Jonathan Martin of The New York Times said on Twitter that it was part of the deal. That would test Trump’s influence with primary voters, considering Van Drew has voted with Democrats 82 percent of the time during his first year in office and with Trump just 6 percent of the time, according to CQ’s Vote Watch. Those numbers are made for television ads in a primary.

In the general election, we had the race rated as Tilt Democratic with Van Drew running for reelection as a Democrat in a Trump district. Now this is obviously a new race. We’ll start the new phase of the race as Tilt Republican with Van Drew running for reelection as a Republican in a Trump district.

There’s obviously no guarantee Van Drew will win the primary, but Democrats could also struggle to nominate a top-tier candidate. There’s a reason why Democrats lobbied Van Drew for so long to run when Republican Frank Lo Biondo held this seat — he was arguably the only local Democrat who could win the district. And in 2018 he won the open seat left by LoBiondo’s retirement by nearly 8 points, although national Republicans had abandoned their nominee in July. But even under the new circumstances, the district is not out of reach for Democrats; President Barack Obama carried it twice.

With the party switch, Democrats will have a 234-200 House majority, with one independent (Justin Amash of Michigan). Republicans technically need a net gain of 18 seats for a majority in the House. But in reality, Republicans need to gain 20 seats because they’ll likely lose two seats in North Carolina with the new congressional map. The majority is still a tall task for Republicans.

Nathan L. Gonzales is an elections analyst for CQ Roll Call.

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