And we have another retirement from a swing-district Republican. Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R), a popular moderate who has locked down his purple Atlantic City and South Jersey seat for twelve terms, will not seek a thirteenth. LoBiondo’s decision instantly puts this R+1 seat onto the board. The seat covers the Atlantic City metro area, the Cape May and Vineland areas, small-town Deep South Jersey (aka “Pretty Much Alabama”) and finishing up by taking in blue-collar southern Philly exurbs of Gloucester County. This is a relatively downscale district that moved toward Trump, but still has a large Dem base that will make the general election very competitive. Complicating a Great Mentioner for this seat is the fact that essentially every possible candidate here is running for an office today. So today’s results may have a big effect on who is in or out. But I’ll still try –
Democrats interestingly enough have a very deep bench in this seat thanks to the powerful local machine of George Norcross (D), but one name stands head and shoulders above the others: State Sen. Jeff Van Drew (D), a moderate who has locked down a red Cape May State Senate seat. Van Drew would be by far the strongest candidate for Democrats and would probably start as at least a slight general election favorite if he ran without LoBiondo in the race. However, Van Drew has turned down overture after overture from the DCCC to challenge LoBiondo, and he just may not be interested in going to Congress. Other possible names on the area’s deep Dem bench include Van Drew’s proteges, State Reps. Bruce Land (D) and Bob Andreczjak (D), as well as State Rep. Adam Taliaferro (D). State Rep. John Burzichelli (D) represents a big chunk of the seat but lives outside of it, while State Rep. Vince Mazzeo (D) also represents a big chunk of the district but has some foot-in-mouth tendencies. One more name to mention is State Senate Pres. Steve Sweeney (D), a top Norcross ally who may be booted from the Senate Presidency due to being insufficiently slavish to the Teachers’ Union. However, Sweeney lives in NJ-1 and that seems a more likely landing spot for him if Rep. Donald Norcross (D) moves to the Senate. From outside the legislature, there is Atlantic County commissioner and current State Senate candidate Colin Bell (D).
Republicans somewhat surprisingly have a much thinner bench. The top recruit here is almost certainly State Rep. Chris Brown (R), who is facing (today) a tight race for a blue State Senate seat. Win or lose that race, he is likely to get an NRCC call. Second after him is probably Atlantic CE Dennis Levinson (R), who has won a long tenure in his blue county. Another potential recruit currently seeking a State Senate seat is Salem County GOP chair Fran Greiner (R), who is doing well in his uphill race today against Sweeney. Atlantic City Mayor Don Guardian (R), win or lose his current tough re-election race in his deep-blue city, could also be an intriguing candidate. Former Philadelphia Eagle and 2014 NJ-1 candidate Garry Cobb (R) could also be a possibility as he gained some buzz despite running in a deep-blue district. From the prior legislator file, ex-State Reps. Vince Polistina (R), John Amodeo (R), and Sam Fiocchi (R) could be worth mentions.
It looks likely that the nominees here will be settled far ahead of time though, as this area is extremely machine-dominated and Norcross and the GOP bosses will anoint nominees. This general election is sure to be competitive, but a big question is how much Norcross wants this seat. The state level is where his bread is buttered, and Norcross has been known to not play hard in federal races (as in the 2014 NJ-3 race where he all but cut off Dems’ nominee for an open purple seat). Thus it is a distinct possibility that Dems’ efforts here could be weaker than the lean of the seat and year might indicate.