Three weeks before New Jersey Rep. Jeff Van Drew cemented his defection to the Republican Party with a pledge of "undying support" for President Donald Trump, he sent a constituent a very different message.
"I haven't voted for him, I didn't support him, I will not vote for him," Van Drew said of Trump in a Nov. 30 voicemail to a voter in his South Jersey district.
Addressing his opposition to impeaching Trump, which ultimately led to his break from the Democratic Party, Van Drew said: "I'd rather just beat him in a normal election."
The message, which was obtained Friday by the Philadelphia Inquirer, came only two weeks before a private White House meeting where he finalized his plans to switch parties. The emergence of the voicemail comes just days before Van Drew is set to fly with Trump on Air Force One to a rally in Wildwood, which Van Drew hopes will help gin up support for him in the Republican primary.
"I've pledged my support for the President in the Oval Office, on the floor of the House when I voted against impeachment, in South Jersey diners and everywhere in between," Van Drew said Friday when asked about the voicemail. "My support for President Trump couldn't be more clear -- and he'll hear it again from me in person on Tuesday night in Wildwood."
Asked for comment on the voicemail, Trump campaign spokesman Tim Murtaugh said: "We are happy that the president has the support of Congressman Van Drew, who was fed up with the nonsense from within his own party."
Gwen Meade, the Margate voter who was the recipient of Van Drew's voicemail after she sent him a message through his website, said she was surprised to hear back from him.
"I think that this is a man who may not know his own mind," Meade said Friday. "Cognitive dissonance. I don't know if he's experiencing that, but I am. And I don't think I'm alone."
Van Drew's reelection campaign is expected to be one of the most closely watched House races in the country. Since becoming a Republican, Van Drew has enjoyed the support of the national party's political apparatus, even as conservatives in the district have greeted him more warily.
Trump's support of Van Drew could be crucial to his reelection chances. Trump won Van Drew's district by 5 points in 2016. Several GOP candidates who were already running before he defected are still in the race.
Six Democrats have announced they will run for their party's nomination to represent the district, which stretches from the Philadelphia suburbs in Gloucester County south to Cape May, and from north of Atlantic City into Burlington County.
"Regardless of what we do, the Senate is not gonna find him guilty, they've already said they're gonna find him innocent," Van Drew said of impeachment in the voicemail. "When they do, he is still gonna be the president, he is still gonna be the presidential candidate. But now, he is going to be able to say to everybody that he is innocent and that he didn't do anything wrong whatsoever. And that's gonna help him. It's just gonna help him with his base and it's gonna help him with a lot of people."
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