By TIM KELLY
When local Congressman Jeff Van Drew met with President Donald Trump in December, the president vowed to come to Cape May County to stump for the freshman congressman’s 2020 re-election bid.
Last week Trump made good on his promise to support Van Drew, who had unexpectedly switched his party affiliation from Democrat to Republican a few days earlier. The president’s re-election committee announced Trump would host a rally in Wildwood later this month.
No one is happier about this development than Ocean City’s Fourth Ward Councilman Bob Barr, who met with Trump after Van Drew’s visit, and who considers the congressman to be a mentor and one of his closest friends.
It was announced that Trump will hold a “Keep America Great” themed rally at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 28 at the Wildwoods Convention Center, 4501 Boardwalk. Doors for general admission seating open at 3 p.m.
“Anytime a sitting president of the United States comes to your home county, it’s a special thing,” Barr said. “This goes beyond party politics. I don’t care if you’re a Republican, Democrat, Independent or undeclared. This is a great opportunity to experience history.”
His trip to South Jersey will be a homecoming of sorts for the president, who spent many years in Atlantic City as owner of three different casino properties.
Wildwood is in the congressional district represented by Van Drew, who will likely be a speaker at the event. The local dentist and former state senator said that going to the GOP was a “better fit” for his political ideology, despite being elected in New Jersey’s Second Congressional District as a Democrat.
Van Drew, previously characterized by most as a moderate Democrat, was one of only three Democratic congressional representatives to oppose impeachment proceedings against Trump. As a result, Van Drew said party bosses ordered him to change his voting preference or to risk political reprisals.
Instead, Van Drew switched parties.
“I don’t like what some members of the Democratic Party have become,” said Barr. “I feel they don’t deserve to have Congressman Van Drew among their ranks.”
Van Drew said impeachment proceedings would “further divide the country and tear it apart at the seams,” and contended there were not enough votes in the Senate to remove Trump from office.
The party switch made international news and sparked outrage by Democrats locally and nationwide, while the GOP welcomed Van Drew with open arms. Barr also switched parties days before his friend, changing from Democrat to Republican in anticipation of Van Drew’s move.
“The thing is, the congressman is still the same man. He changed his party affiliation. He didn’t change his ideals or integrity,” Barr said.
“After (Van Drew) won the election, he told me, ‘We’re going to put South Jersey on the map.’ It didn’t happen quite the way I envisioned, but the congressman did exactly what he set out to accomplish. I’m thrilled for him.”
Barr said that since word of Trump’s visit was announced, “my phone has been inundated with calls. Not necessarily wanting tickets to the rally, just wanting to know the motorcade route or a place to stand so they can get a glimpse of the president.”
He said many of his Democrat friends have been trying to get his ear as well.
“Anyone with a sense of history will tell you this could be a once in a lifetime event,” Barr remarked, “and they all want to be a part of it.”
In December, the councilman received a one-on-one audience with Trump and Vice President Mike Pence following Van Drew’s press availability in the White House’s Oval Office. Barr and his girlfriend, Michelle Eggleston, had endured a lengthy delay at the presidential mansion’s security gate through no fault of his own.
Security personnel were delayed in obtaining the required advance information provided by Barr, and Eggleston’s info was never found, preventing her from being a part of the White House media availability.
When Trump heard about the incident, he called it “unacceptable” and invited the couple back to Washington later this year for a VIP tour, a meal and another meeting with the president. Barr said he was humbled by the experience.
“It was the congressman’s day,” Barr said. “I was honored he invited me and I just wanted to show my support. I hoped to maybe meet the president and shake his hand. I never expected to spend that kind of time with the president and the vice president.”
Barr, 37, said he sometimes still has difficulty processing the enormity of the events of the last few months.
“There are more than 400 members of Congress,” he said. “The president can’t be there for them all. I can’t tell you how excited I am for the region and for the congressman.”