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Amy Kennedy wins Democratic primary to challenge Jeff Van Drew, New Jersey congressman who switched parties

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Amy Kennedy, part of the American political dynasty, quickly cruised through her Democratic primary and will face off against Republican Congressman Jeff Van Drew in November. The Associated Press called the race around 9:15 p.m., and Kennedy's main opponent,  Brigid Callahan Harrison, conceded in a YouTube statement.   

Van Drew was elected in 2018 to represent the south Jersey district as a Democrat, but switched parties in late 2019 after voting against impeachment and has pledged his "undying loyalty" for President Trump.

In her election night remarks, Kennedy said that when Van Drew "abandoned the people of South Jersey," she wanted to "step up and do something."

"Since he became a Republican, he has chosen time and time again to serve Donald Trump instead of serving his community. He's spent more time raising money for Trump's re-election campaign than he has doing anything for the people he was elected to serve," she said. "My message to Jeff Van Drew tonight is we have had enough, and we deserve better."

Harrison, a political science professor, conceded and threw her support behind Kennedy. "Let's be clear, while this is a tough moment for me, tonight is a great moment for the Democratic primary. Because tonight, after a primary that has been tough for all of us, we stand together," she said in the concession video. 

Late in the race, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy endorsed Kennedy, a mental health advocate and educator who is married to former Congressman Patrick Kennedy, a son of the late Senator Ted Kennedy. 

Murphy joined Kennedy at her election results party and said the Kennedys, particularly Senator Ted Kennedy and President John F. Kennedy, were a big reason he went into public service. Like Amy, he went after Van Drew's party switch. 

"We had a guy who claimed he was a Democrat. We know Jeff Van Drew, what stripes he showed, He completely threw out the notion of all that Democratic party stands for," Murphy said. "This is now a contrast unlikely any I can remember in my political life. You have that guy who cut and run, and you have Amy Kennedy, who is the real deal.

Kennedy also had the support of the Atlantic County Democratic Party, the largest county in the district.

Harrison held the support of both of two of Murphy's political rivals, state Senate president Steven Sweeney and local Democratic powerbroker George Norcross. During the heat of the primary, Kennedy's campaign often criticized her ties to Norcross, who helped Van Drew flip the seat in 2018. 

Once it was clear Kennedy has won, Norcross congratulated her and said he looks forward to supporting her in November. "It is important that we retake the Second Congressional seat and continue to advance a pro-worker, pro-reform, and pro-civil justice agenda in Washington, D.C.," he said

Harrison has also been endorsed by the state's two U.S. senators, Cory Booker and Bob Menendez, who are both Democrats. Will Cunningham, who lost to Van Drew in the 2018 Democratic primary, also ran.

Kennedy looked to portray herself as the grassroots candidate, saying in her remarks that Tuesday was a "big win" for progressives. 

During the primary, Harrison has criticized the actions of Kennedy's husband, Patrick, who funneled $500,000 into a super PAC to attack Harrison. She's also gone after Kennedy's contributions from Wellpath, a health care company that works with for-profit prisons. 

Harrison entered the race the week Van Drew announced his defection on impeachment, and aimed to challenge him in a primary even before he switched parties. Kennedy, Harrison and Cunningham have all criticized Van Drew's party switch, with Harrison calling him a "traitor" and Kennedy saying he "betrayed" the South Jersey district.

Van Drew faced a challenge from the right from Robert Patterson, who worked in the Social Security Administration earlier in Mr. Trump's term. Van Drew has been endorsed by Mr. Trump, who appeared in a rally in New Jersey with Van Drew earlier this year, but Patterson argued that he is the more conservative candidate. In a January op-ed in The Wall Street Journal, Patterson criticized Van Drew for his previous support for Planned Parenthood.

"While the Democrats were tripping over each other to appease the Radical Left in a bitter and divisive primary, our Republican Party came together and is united as we head into the General Election," Van Drew said in a statement. 

In a congratulatory statement from National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Emmer said Kennedy "has demonstrated throughout her campaign that the only thing she is running on is her last name and that's just not going to fly with voters. I look forward to helping Jeff win reelection and continuing our work together in Congress."

poll by the NRCC's counterparts at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee showed Kennedy trailing Van Drew by 3 points, and Vice President Joe Biden trailing by 1 point to Mr. Trump in the district. The poll was conducted from June 30 to July 3. 

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