After a spate of attention and publicity, South Jersey progressive Democratic candidate Tanzie Youngblood, an African American woman, is showing some signs of fundraising life in her race to win a seat in Congress, boosting her total money raised to $88,309, including a $5,000 contribution from U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand's Off the Sidelines PAC.
Will Cunningham, another progressive running in the Democratic primary for the seat in New Jersey's Second Congressional District, now held by retiring Republican U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo, reported $51,951 in funds. Cunningham is a gay African American who served as a staffer in U.S. Sen. Cory Booker's office.
But both lag far behind the establishment Democratic candidate, State Sen. Jeff Van Drew of Cape May County, according to newly filed first-quarter campaign-finance reports.
Van Drew's more conservative voting record, and 100 percent rating from the National Rifle Association have drawn criticism from the district's progressive wing but have not stopped national Democrats from embracing his candidacy. In his Federal Election Commission filings, Van Drew reported raising a total of $488,845 through the end of March, with all but $32,800 still on hand.
He was supported by a $5,000 contribution from the American Dental Association (Van Drew is a dentist), and $5,000 from Ameripac, a national Democratic fundraising committee formed to elect Democrats to Congress. Van Drew has the support of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which has identified the district as likely to flip from Republican to Democratic in midterms. Democrats need 23 seats to gain control of the House.
Locally, eight county Democratic chairs in the South Jersey district have supported Van Drew, giving him the valuable party line on the primary ballot. Cunningham has accused State Senate President Stephen Sweeney of delaying a vote on six gun bills so that Van Drew would not have to cast votes until after the June 5 primary. Van Drew has said he supports expanded background checks, but has not indicated his views on the other bills.
Both Youngblood and Van Drew received individual contributions through ActBlue, a Democratic fundraising site.
In a release this week, Youngblood praised the people who contributed to her campaign in an economically strapped district, citing 958 contributors with an average contribution of $68.25 per donor. Ninety-five percent of her donors have given less than $100. She described her campaign as "people powered." Youngblood recently opened a campaign office in Pleasantville. However, her reports show only $14,000 cash on hand.
"The people decide who best represents their interests, not the political elite," Youngblood said in the statement. "Even with South Jersey's stagnant wages and low job growth, people are willing to invest in their future."
Cunningham, in a release this week, cited national interest in the dynamics of the race and called Van Drew a "DINO," a Democrat in Name Only, and cited Van Drew's voting against raising the minimum wage and gay marriage.
"His voting record hardly reflects the progressive values of 2018 Democrats, and yet he's the machine's top pick," Cunningham said. "But despite the establishment's best efforts, they can't hide his pro-gun agenda and lack of support for true democratic values."
Van Drew is seen by the local and national Democratic establishment as a proven vote-getter whose position as a conservative Democrat will serve him well in a general election and keep stronger Republican candidates on the sidelines. He was endorsed by New Jersey power broker George E. Norcross III before he announced his candidacy. The Donald Norcross for Congress committee, associated with George Norcross' brother U.S. Rep. Donald Norcross (D., N.J.), donated $2,000 to Van Drew's campaign.