The candidates in the 2nd Congressional District race, Republican Seth Grossman and Democratic state Sen. Jeff Van Drew, are far apart on policy even though they both consider themselves conservatives.
The two men are seeking to fill the seat of retiring GOP incumbent Frank LoBiondo, a more than 20-year veteran who leaned more to the center than to the right. Grossman represents the most conservative edge of the Republican party and is a major supporter of President Donald Trump. Van Drew is a conservative Democrat. Their platforms differ sharply, not least over what it means to be a sensible, rational conservative.
Grossman is an Atlantic City resident and former councilman, former Atlantic County freeholder and Somers Point attorney; Van Drew, a dentist, has been a state Senator since 2008. They are competing in a district that is largely working-class, with wide swaths of rural farmland. It includes parts of Burlington, Camden, Gloucester, and Ocean counties. The district, the largest geographically in the state, then includes all of southernmost New Jersey, encompassing all of Atlantic, Cape May, Cumberland, and Salem counties.
One issue that Grossman and Van Drew disagree on is healthcare. The passage in 2010 of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), backed by President Barack Obama, motivated Republicans to try to repeal and replace the law. Despite major Republican gains in the years since, including control of both houses of Congress, the party has so far failed in this effort. The GOP’s American Health Care Act (AHCA) of 2017 bill, which was meant to replace the ACA, narrowly passed in the House yet stalled in the Senate.
Grossman’s views on healthcare are in concert with those of many Republicans.
“Obamacare caused millions of Americans to lose very affordable and workable insurance plans, and the current situation is not sustainable,” Grossman said. “I personally know many people who cannot afford their current policies, and $5000 deductibles are ridiculous. I would begin by repealing Obamacare mandates completely, and then letting each state experiment with its own system, and allowing insurance companies to sell policies across state lines.”
Van Drew believes that while Obamacare might need a “tweaking,” replacing it without a well-thought-out alternative would be “inhumane.”
“I will not entertain the idea of moving those people who have pre-existing conditions [from a health care plan],” Van Drew said, a reference to the Trump administration’s argument in a recently filed court brief that Obamacare’s protections for pre-existing conditions should be ruled unconstitutional. “They absolutely deserve to get care. Health care is a fiscal issue, but it is also a humane issue.”
Immigration is one issue that marks a notable point of divergence between the candidates.
On his campaign website, Grossman points to his belief that legal immigration should be reduced to “sustainable levels,” and that current immigration laws should be more strictly enforced. He points to a period of several decades ending in 1965 during which he believes immigration laws were more strictly enforced.
The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 ended a quota system based on a national-origins formula that had been in place since 1921. The previous system, which restricted immigration from Asia and Africa and gave preference to northern and western Europeans over southern and eastern Europeans, was widely considered to be discriminatory.
Grossman, who was rebuked for publicly stating that “the whole idea of diversity is a bunch of crap and un-American,” explained that he does not want to return to any immigration scheme based on national origins.
“I believe the total number of legal immigrants should be reduced to the pre-1965 levels of roughly 300,000 legal immigrants per year, rather than the 1.2 million legal immigrants we have now,” he said. “I oppose the ‘diversity lottery’ system. However, I never supported a return to the pre-1965 immigration quotas based on nationality — I simply support a reduction of the total yearly number. Regardless of my opinion of the current immigration law, I believe it must be strictly enforced unless or until it is repealed or changed.”
“I also believe state and local police should also enforce federal immigration laws just as they also enforce federal laws against robbing banks,” Grossman said. “I do not believe that ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) should be the only agency in the country enforcing these federal laws.”
Van Drew does not believe that going back to a quota system is “beneficial” or “where we are now” as a country. But he does think that America needs a “re-do” of its immigration system as well as a reconsideration of how current immigration policy is executed.
“I don’t believe in either sanctuary cities or states, or open borders, but ICE is still needed to deal not only with immigration, but other issues,” Van Drew said, citing human trafficking and sex trafficking. “We may also need DNA testing to make sure that families, which should not be separated, really are families, and that there is not a trafficking situation. These are serious situations, and they do happen.”
“Sending approximately 11 million [undocumented immigrants] back is not going to cure anything,” Van Drew said. “We shouldn’t have amnesty and make people automatically citizens. But we need to have a sane system, one that is not piecemeal, where people can become part of America and where you don’t need sanctuary cities or states.”
The economy of the Jersey Shore, which includes beaches in the district’s part of Ocean County and all the Atlantic Ocean shoreline in Atlantic and Cape May counties, is highly dependent on being environmentally safe. Conservationists assert that any serious environmental damage that would adversely affect the district’s tourism and fishing industries would be immense and incalculable.
For Grossman, environmental policy should involve another calculus — the potential economic benefit of offshore drilling to the district.
“I would like an open and honest debate on offshore drilling before making a decision. It seems that many other coastal states have the benefit of both a thriving fishing and beach tourism industry, plus the good, year-round high-paying jobs of the oil industry,” Grossman said. “It also seems that offshore drilling safety technology has improved greatly since the last accident in the Gulf of Mexico. In my opinion, officials who now oppose offshore drilling did not give both sides of the issue a fair hearing before making a decision to oppose offshore drilling.”
Van Drew has been criticized for his environmental record. The environmental advocacy group Clean Water Action recently gave him a 28 percent grade on their legislative scorecard, far lower that the average Democratic score of 71 percent. Van Drew, however, pointed to his endorsement by the Sierra Club, a prominent environmental organization. He also underscored his opposition to offshore drilling.
“Sometimes you just have to say no. Offshore drilling is just too dangerous an environmental and financial gamble for tourism at the Jersey Shore, which is still our main industry,” Van Drew said. “God help us if something did go wrong, and it has gone wrong in other states in the past. The effects could be disastrous.”
As in most Congressional races, the Trump effect looms large in the 2nd district. Whether the policies of the Trump administration will be a boon or a bane for Republican candidates this year will soon be determined.
Grossman declined to answer most of a recently emailed series of questions about various policy issues, including gun control. (Van Drew has stated while he is a strong supporter of the Second Amendment, demonstrated by his A rating from the National Rifle Association, he is for “common sense” measures, such as being against the use of bump stocks and for universal background checks).
One thing Grossman is very clear on — that he is the true conservative in a district that has long skewed center-right. His campaign website trumpets his support for Trump, featuring a “MAGA blog,” a reference to the president’s Make America Great Again slogan.
Grossman did answer a question as to why he ran for Congress in the first place.
“When Frank LoBiondo announced his retirement last November, I believed I was the Republican best qualified and best known in the district to hold his seat for the Republican Party,” Grossman said. “Also, I believed that Republicans in Congress were not doing enough to support President Trump.”
Van Drew said he’s willing to work with Trump on issues that they agree on, such as the need to improve Veterans Affairs services. At the same time, Van Drew looked around his district and wondered where the Republican Party is going.
“Frank LoBiondo and I have more in common than Frank LoBiondo has with Seth Grossman,” Van Drew said. “The public wants change. But they don’t want this kind of change.”