We’ve been featuring inspiring video after inspiring video from New Jersey March for Our Lives events over the weekend. But there’s a moment from the Haddon Heights march that Phaedra Trethan at the Courier-Post picked up on that’s flown under the radar:
U.S. Rep. Donald Norcross, D-Camden, spoke at the rally, turning what organizers had insisted was not to be a political statement into one. He called upon Republicans in Congress to buck the National Rifle Association and enact reform.
Some in the crowd, however, yelled that Norcross supports Jeff Van Drew’s bid for the seat in New Jersey’s 2nd Congressional District — despite Van Drew’s 100 percent rating from the NRA.
The chant speaks to the delicate dance that the South Jersey Democratic Party is doing on gun control. Leaders in safely blue districts are visible at marches (good), and voting for gun control at both a state and congressional level (better). But those activities walk the fine line of signaling support to progressive constituents without doing the risky, hard work to create change on the margins where it is needed. When the South Jersey Democratic Party had a chance to throw their weight behind a congressional candidate in CD2 that would flip from a pro-NRA vote to a gun control vote, they declined. Instead, they supported Jeff Van Drew: a Democratic candidate with an A+ rating from the NRA.
This is where the rubber hits the road when it comes to gun control discussions. In South Jersey, the Democratic Party line has been to talk about how red CD2 is. But Trump only won the district by 4.6% and Obama actually won the district in 2012 by 8.1% and in 2008 by 7.7%. With longtime representative LoBiondo retiring and a potential wave election for Democrats, it’s certainly possible to imagine a candidate winning the seat who supports gun control. But South Jersey Democrats have uniformly backed Van Drew, or not spoken on the race at all.
There’s an important strategy discussion to be had here about how to run in purple district. But here’s what’s clear: it is not courageous to stand up at marches and say you’re for gun control, to take votes with little chance of passing through Congress-level and local votes that are widely supported in New Jersey, then to turn around and support an NRA-approved Democrat in an open seat.
The LoBiondo seat offers a tangible opportunity to flip a gun control vote — something that is critically important if gun control measures are going to pass nationally. South Jersey progressives have noticed that their elected officials are more than willing to show up to speak at a rally about guns and to make safe votes, but less than willing to oppose party leadership that supports a Democratic candidate with an A+ rating from the NRA. That response to an open seat in a purple district says something about the local party’s priorities.