Jeff Van Drew, a conservative Democratic state senator long viewed as the heir apparent to the South Jersey congressional seat occupied for two decades by moderate Republican U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo, won election Tuesday night in a tighter than expected race over his Republican challenger, attorney Seth Grossman.
Grossman, however, said he was not conceding the race and would revisit the returns Wednesday morning.
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Van Drew, 65, a dentist by trade, was considered a shoo in for the Second Congressional District seat even before his longtime friend Grossman surprised his party by winning the GOP nomination. Grossman's victory party did not last long; within a week, video of him saying diversity is "a bunch of crap and un-American" was leaked by American Bridge, a pro-Democratic Super PAC dedicated to opposition research on behalf of Democrats.
Early returns had Grossman leading, but the Van Drew campaign declared victory just after 10 p.m. Tuesday, and said their candidate was ahead by high single digits. The campaign said the election featured "incredibly high-turnout." Van Drew had 52 percent of the vote to Grossman's 46 percent with 99 percent reporting.
Van Drew called the race a "flashpoint election," and vowed to champion a new kind of leadership in Washington.
"The first piece I want to do is a resolution that would mandate that our Congress people behave like normal human beings," Van Drew told a crowd at the Claridge Hotel in Atlantic City. "We have a job to do with leadership. Leadership means that you work together.
"Before we are anything else, we are Americans," Van Drew said in the speech, which was broadcast live over Facebook. "We have to work together. Not in a mean spirited way. Not to destroy each other. But to actually get things done for Americans that live in this country, that live in New Jersey that live in South Jersey.
"Some people say we've got to make America great again," he added. "I say America is great."
Reached by telephone late Tuesday, Grossman said, "I'm going to bed because I'm tired. So much confusion. I just want to wait in the morning when I have a real clear picture."
Grossman was disavowed by the national Republican Congressional Committee, leaving him starving for cash and shunned, though never dropped by the local Republican party.
LoBiondo, with whom Grossman had tangled during the Tea Party era, never publicly endorsed him, though LoBiondo said on Election Day after voting that he might have campaigned with Grossman, but was never asked. The district includes all of Atlantic, Cape May, Cumberland and Salem counties, and parts of Gloucester, Burlington, Ocean and Camden counties.
Van Drew had long courted Republicans and independents in his elections to the State Senate from the First Legislative District, a deeply Republican district. He fended off four progressive challengers in the Democratic Primary, amid questions about his pro-gun stands. He has said he supports universal background checks, and his NRA rating plummeted.
The race was considered so lopsided that New Jersey pollster Patrick Murray refused to even poll the district, and said he would "walk off the Steel Pier" in Atlantic City if Grossman won.