What’s in a name? A lively political fight featuring a Kennedy and a Democrat-turned Republican | Mulshine

Posted Jul 12, 2020

A couple days after Jeff Van Drew’s primary victory last week, I left a message on his Voicemail:

“Have you considered changing your name to Kennedy?”

When he called back, the Republican incumbent from New Jersey’s southernmost congressional district assured me that he’d be keeping his current name through the November general election against Democratic nominee Amy Kennedy.

But he also said, “the Kennedy name helps” when it comes to explaining the surprisingly large margin of victory that Kennedy ran up in dispatching the choice of the party bosses.

That was Brigid Harrison, the Montclair State professor who had the endorsement of the mighty Norcross machine.

Or should I make that “Brigid Callahan Harrison?” In her campaign literature, Harrison made sure to include her maiden name, with its Irish lilt.

Harrison’s campaign also put up a website called “The Real Amy Kennedy.” It included a lot of hard-hitting allegations against Kennedy and her husband Patrick Kennedy, a former Rhode Island congressman who is the son of the late Teddy Kennedy.

Among the allegations was that Patrick Kennedy’s wife was trading on her husband’s family name. The quote in question was from an interview he gave the New Jersey Globe website: “In South Jersey we’re dominated by a machine that doesn’t give anyone else a fair shot, but Amy does have a shot because her last name is Kennedy.”

As the old saying goes, it’s not boasting if you can back it up. And Kennedy certainly did so on Election Day.

How things will go in the general election is a different question, one that may make this the most intriguing – and perhaps the most expensive - congressional election in the country this year.

That’s because two years ago Van Drew won the same Democratic nomination Kennedy now has. But he switched parties after deciding that he wasn’t going to back the impeachment of President Trump.

The way it turned out, Van Drew’s fellow Democrats would have been wise to go along with him. But Trump has a talent for enraging his enemies to the point that they do self-defeating things – like chase away a popular incumbent who had won for the Democrats a formerly solid Republican seat in a district Trump won by five points in 2016.

Trump thanked Van Drew by mounting a massive rally in Wildwood, and by making sure the district’s Republican leaders would welcome a party-switcher. Van Drew faced only token opposition in the primary and won with 81 percent of the Republican vote.

“That doesn’t happen that often. Eighty-one percent is a good number,” Van Drew said. “We have rock-solid support in the Republican Party and hope to keep my middle-of-the-road people as well.”

He always has. Van Drew lasted for 20 years in the state Legislature by courting moderate voters in a district that leaned Republican.

His strategy this time around will be to paint his opponent as too liberal for a district that is largely suburban and rural.

“In the Democratic Party there’s a move to the left,” he said. “She has lurched to the left and is the darling of the progressives.”

Has she?

You can’t tell that from her campaign website.

Kennedy ran a campaign based more on her background and personality than on the issues.

Typical is a photo with 40 family members along with this caption: “Amy was born in Atlantic City and grew up in Pleasantville and Absecon, New Jersey. She and her husband, former Congressman Patrick J. Kennedy, live in southern New Jersey with their five children.”

Thanks to the COVID-19 crisis, she could get away with that. This was a virtual campaign with no real need for much debate on the issues.

That debate will be fun once it gets going. Van Drew, who was a humble Cape May County dentist before ascending to Congress, is a known quantity.

As for Kennedy, it’s her husband who’s known – and for some stances that are uncommon among his fellow Democrats.

I saw that in Trenton at a hearing on marijuana legalization.

Kennedy, a recovering drug addict and alcoholic, sounded like a character out of the classic anti-pot movie “Reefer Madness.”

“As a father of five, the last thing I want is edibles sold on every corner,” he said.

Neither did anyone on the committee, and they hit back hard at him.

So did Harrison during this campaign when she said that “Patrick is beholden to a wide variety of corrupt interests and by extension Amy is beholden to those very same corrupt interests.”

The interests in question are the pharmaceutical companies that fear legal pot will undercut the sale of their products. They are prime sponsors of the anti-marijuana movement.

But hey, that’s politics. And politics is what the Kennedys are good at.

Just how good we’ll find out in November.

Do you like this post?

Be the first to comment