As Republican Seth Grossman and Democrat State Sen. Jeff Van Drew come to the close of their 2nd Congressional District campaign, the candidates are trying to use whatever weapons they have to win — although there is a huge gap in ammunition between them.
According to the last Federal Election Commission report on October 17, Grossman has raised $240,626, and has $110,446 on hand. The report for Van Drew on the same date indicates that he has raised $1,677,443 and has $186,984 on hand.
Recent polling demonstrates another wide divide between the candidates. According to a Stockton University poll released on October 25, Van Drew holds a 55 percent to 38 percent lead over Grossman. Van Drew's 17-point lead, however, is six points less than in a previous survey; a Stockton poll released on September 19 gave him a 55 percent to 32 percent lead over Grossman.
Grossman and Van Drew are competing in a deep-South Jersey district that is largely working-class, with wide swaths of rural farmland. The district, the largest geographically in the state, is also in the expensive Philadelphia media market. So far, the candidates’ relatively few television commercials reflect two key realities of the race. Van Drew, perceived to be far ahead of his rival, is executing a strategy of limited risk. Meanwhile, Grossman continues to contend with limited resources.
The ad, entitled “Jeff Van Drew always sticks with his party,” opens with a video of Van Drew, who states “At the end of day, I stick with my party.” Seconds later, an array of prominent congressional Democrats appear, all looking vaguely sinister: House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, and New Jersey’s own Sen. Cory Booker.
The announcer then intones the consequences of the Democrats retaking power in Congress — “A Democrat win will bring even more leftist mob violence in an effort to destroy our republic” — as these words are superimposed over images of crowds of protestors. Grossman, first sitting in a law office, then shaking hands at a street fair, is posited as the opposite of Democratic disorder. “South Jersey needs a conservative champion for the Trump agenda,” the announcer says, a reminder that Grossman is a devoted supporter of President Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” maxim. Grossman has consistently declared his allegiance to the president and his policies, a theme that has been a key component of Grossman's campaign.
The last image of the commercial is of Grossman shaking an African-American woman's hand. This scene is perhaps an attempt to counter a statement made by Grossman earlier in the campaign that “the whole idea of diversity is a bunch of crap and un-American.” This utterance led the National Republican Campaign Committee (NRCC) to withdraw its support of Grossman's campaign, accusing him of bigotry.
Van Drew, a dentist who has been a state Senator since 2008, uses imagery in one television ad that plays upon what he sees as his strengths. The ad,opens with Van Drew in his white dentist’s coat, Dr. Jeff stitched on the front, greeting patients at his office. He says that his patients include both Republicans and Democrats, implying that the conservative Democrat will be better at bipartisanship than Grossman.
Matthew Hale, associate professor of political science at Seton Hall University, noted the different strategic visions Grossman and Van Drew have as they look toward Election Day.
“Grossman has to depend on the fact that the hardcore Trump supporters and the right wing are going to come out in massive numbers,” Hale said. “That's the only way it works for him.”
Hale also notes that a low campaign budget doesn’t mean that Grossman’s message can’t effectively get out to his core supporters. “If you don't have a lot of money, you don’t go on TV. You go on Facebook. You go on local blogs. You go on the radio,” Hale said. “You target media that has a right-wing bent to try to gin up your numbers.”
“Grossman needs to have something turn viral and huge for him to pull this out, something that will absolutely ignite his base,” Hale said. “If there was an interview with people in the migrant caravan saying that they were all coming to the 2nd District, that would be something that would help him. Or Van Drew saying that he can’t wait to get to Congress to raise everybody’s property taxes. Grossman needs some sort of Hail Mary pass that’s going to save him. I don’t know what that is.”
According to Hale, Van Drew just needs to be steady the rest of the way and continue to work his message that he’s a centrist, middle-of-the-road Democrat.
“There aren’t any big changes that Van Drew needs to make to take this race. Every Democrat nominated in this year’s Congressional races in New Jersey is a centrist, middle-of-the-road Democrat,” Hale said. “There is no one hugely progressive candidate in any of the contested races.”
Democrats nationwide, progressives and centrists alike, are counting on an anticipated “blue wave” to sweep them into power in Congress. The 2nd Congressional District, however, could be viewed as a bit different. Grossman and Van Drew 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.
With Van Drew, a conservative Democrat, the odds-on favorite to win the race, the question of whether the term “blue wave” applies in a district that has long skewed center-right is a valid one.
“In the 2nd District, it’s not a wave, it’s a ripple," Hale said. “A shift from LoBiondo to Van Drew is not necessarily a wholesale sea change. It may not be a huge policy change. Instead, it’s a change in letter from R to D.”