EGG HARBOR CITY, N.J. -- Six New Jersey Democrats piled into a Teamsters hall here last week to make the case for why they should be the one to take on their party's longtime ally turned archenemy.
On the surface, there wasn't much tension between the candidates vying for the Democratic nomination to challenge Rep. Jeff Van Drew, who defected to the Republican Party last year after opposing President Donald Trump's impeachment.
"We agree on 90%," Brigid Callahan Harrison, a professor at Montclair State University and one of the Democrats running in the South Jersey district, said during the candidate forum Thursday. "We all have a common goal. ... If we're going to beat Jeff Van Drew, we have to be unified."
But despite the talk of unity, there's a deeper debate brewing: Should it be an establishment Democrat or an outsider who goes face to face against Van Drew?
At the moment, Harrison is the establishment front-runner. She entered the race first, almost immediately after Van Drew's party switch in December. She has support from six of the eight county party chairs in the district, and endorsements from key unions like the American Federation of Teachers.
Meanwhile, Amy Kennedy, a former public school teacher, has come to be seen as the leading "outsider" candidate, despite her pedigree as a member of the prominent Democratic family. She has significant name recognition and the potential to tap into a powerful national fundraising network fueled by her husband former Rep. Patrick Kennedy's ties to key donors.
What remains to be seen is whether rank-and-file Democratic voters, having just been spurned by the ultimate machine Democrat in Van Drew, will pay any mind to the establishment in the June 2 primary.
"I'm wondering what I'm gonna do in November," said Angela Bardoe, 48, of Vineland. "I'm just so frustrated with this party machine apparatus."
Republicans decried Jeff Van Drew as a 'socialist.' Now he's switched sides, the GOP is falling in line.
Bardoe went on to say that if Harrison ends up being the Democratic candidate, "maybe I'll vote for (her)."