Van Drew Breezes, While Salerno Leads in Close Democratic Primary

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Republican Congressman Jeff Van Drew is shown at former President Donald Trump's campaign rally in Wildwood in May.

By DONALD WITTKOWSKI

U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew, seeking his fourth term in Congress representing South Jersey, cruised to the Republican nomination without facing any opposition in Tuesday night’s primary.

In a surprise, political newcomer Joseph Salerno was holding off Tim Alexander in a close race for the Democratic nomination and the right to face Van Drew in the November general election.

With 95 percent of the votes counted, Salerno had 12,637 votes to 12,236 for Alexander. Carolyn Rush, another Democratic candidate, had 7,262 votes, according to unofficial results late Tuesday.

Salerno, of North Cape May in Lower Township, took advantage of his Cape May County base to build his lead.

According to unofficial results, Salerno captured 51 percent of the votes in Cape May County while Alexander and Rush got only about 23 percent each.

Alexander, of Galloway Township, was the favorite heading into the primary. He was the Democratic nominee in the 2022 Second Congressional District race – although he lost to Van Drew by a wide margin then – and retained strong name recognition.

But Salerno escaped major damage in Alexander’s home base of Atlantic County. Alexander had only a 3 percent lead in Atlantic County over Salerno, according to unofficial results.

Salerno is a former engineer, machinist and software developer. A race between Salerno and Van Drew in November would be a major test of their political base in Cape May County. The county, however, is a Republican stronghold.

Joseph Salerno capitalizes on his Cape May County base to take the lead in the close Democratic primary. (Photo courtesy of Joseph Salerno)

Originally elected to Congress in 2018 as a Democrat, Van Drew switched to the Republican Party in 2019 and closely aligned himself with former President Donald Trump.

Van Drew’s campaign manager, Ron Filan, released a statement after the polls closed Tuesday night expressing confidence that no matter who the Democrats put up as their candidate, “their party remains deeply divided and their candidates (are) unable to generate any excitement or support here in South Jersey.”

“Congressman Van Drew would like to thank the tens of thousands of Republicans who turned out today to nominate him with his greatest margin to date,” Filan said.

Filan noted that Van Drew is heading to the general election “with a massive war chest” of more than $1 million in cash on hand.

The Second Congressional District encompasses a vast swath of territory in the southern part of the state, including all or parts of six counties and 93 towns.

Trending increasing conservative in the Republicans’ favor, the district includes the Jersey Shore towns, the Delaware Bay and some of the state’s most rural communities. Atlantic, Cape May, Cumberland and Salem counties make up the core areas, with parts of Gloucester and Ocean counties also included in the district.

Meanwhile, New Jersey’s primary election also saw President Joe Biden capture the Democratic nomination and former President Donald Trump wrap up the Republican nomination as they head for another battle in the general election. Biden carried New Jersey over Trump in the 2020 presidential race.

Republican Senate candidate Curtis Bashaw will face Democrat Andy Kim in the November general election.

Also during Tuesday’s primary, Democrat Andy Kim and Republican Curtis Bashaw won the nominations for the U.S. Senate race in New Jersey.

Kim and Bashaw are also expected to face incumbent Sen. Bob Menendez, who has filed to run as an independent in the general election while accused of federal corruption and bribery charges. Menendez announced earlier this year he would not seek the Democratic nomination for a fourth term in the Senate after he was snubbed by his party.

Kim, a three-term congressman from Burlington County, announced his Senate candidacy in September a day after Menendez was indicted.

Bashaw, a Cape May hotelier, is making his first run for elected office. He defeated former Mendham Mayor Christine Serrano Glassner and two other primary challengers to lock up the Republican Senate nomination.

In yet another high-profile race, Cape May County Board of Commissioners Director Leonard Desiderio won the Republican nomination without facing any opposition. Desiderio, who also serves as mayor of Sea Isle City, is virtually assured re-election to the county commission in November because the Democrats failed to put up a nominee.