Wife of Kennedy nephew joins race to oust New Jersey congressman who switched parties

(Reuters) - The wife of a Kennedy nephew and former congressman on Monday joined the race to win the New Jersey seat held by U.S. Representative Jeff Van Drew, the erstwhile Democrat who joined President Donald Trump in the Oval Office last month to say he was switching parties.

Amy Kennedy, a former teacher who lives in Van Drew's southern New Jersey district, announced her candidacy in a short video released on Monday, becoming the fifth Democratic candidate in the primary race.

She is the wife of Patrick J. Kennedy, a nephew of former U.S. President John F. Kennedy who represented a Rhode Island congressional district from 1995 to 2011. The family has been one of the most prominent in American politics.

"Trump and Van Drew are symptoms of a bigger sickness infecting our country and our politics," Kennedy said in the video.

It also shows a clip of Van Drew shaking hands with a smiling Trump from last month's Oval Office meeting in which he pledged his "undying support" for the Republican president, who carried the New Jersey district in the 2016 election.

Van Drew, 66, switched parties after being one of only two Democrats who voted last month to oppose both articles of impeachment faced by Trump.

The Democrat-controlled House of Representatives voted to impeach Trump for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, saying he should be removed from office after a trial by the Senate, which is controlled by Republicans who are unlikely to agree.

Van Drew, then a conservative Democrat, was elected to the House in 2018 from a district that favoured Trump by 5 percentage points.

That district, which voted for Barack Obama, a Democrat, in the two presidential elections before 2016, stretches across the state, from the suburbs of Philadelphia to the gambling resort of Atlantic City on the coast.

Kennedy, a director at a mental health care advocacy group founded by her husband, used her launch video to decry the impact of climate change on the New Jersey coastline. If elected, she pledged to focus on the "crisis" of mental health and addiction that affects many American families.

In June's primary election, she will face Ashley Bennett and John Francis III, who both hold local elected offices; Will Cunningham, who worked for New Jersey Senator Cory Booker; and Brigid Harrison, a Montclair State University professor who has been endorsed by a majority of Democratic Party leaders in the district, according to Politico.

Three Republicans remain in the race, having announced their challenges prior to Van Drew's switching allegiance.


(Reporting by Jonathan Allen in New York; Editing by Frank McGurty and Dan Grebler)