FILE - NJ Amy Kennedy, Jeff Van Drew

Democratic challenger Amy Kennedy (left) and incumbent U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew

(The Center Square) – U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew, a Republican, and Amy Kennedy, a Democrat, are locked in a heated race for New Jersey’s 2nd Congressional District seat, perhaps one of the most closely watched races in the Garden State.

Van Drew, a dentist, garnered national headlines when he left the Democratic Party in the wake of a U.S. House vote to impeach President Donald Trump.

Voters elected to send Van Drew to Washington in 2018 after incumbent U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo, a Republican, did not seek reelection. He faces off against Kennedy, a former teacher and education director of The Kennedy Forum, in a district Barack Obama won in 2008 and 2012 and Trump won in 2016.

The Center Square reached out to both Van Drew and Kennedy about their positions, but neither candidate responded. The following responses are gleaned from their campaign sites.

What should the U.S. do regarding legal and illegal immigration?

Van Drew: “We need comprehensive reform that must start by strengthening border security and cracking down on employers that knowingly circumvent the law. Additionally, by requiring employers to verify workers we will reduce the hiring of unauthorized workers, increase the accessibility of visas for high-skilled workers, and allow law-abiding immigrant families to come out of the shadows, pay taxes, play by the rules, and earn their citizenship.”

Kennedy: While her site doesn’t offer too many specifics about immigration, it notes, “Labor is the top concern for many of the farmers and producers in South Jersey. They need access to a legal, reliable workforce, but our broken immigration system doesn’t provide it.” Her site also points to the Farm Workforce Modernization Act the House passed last year.

What national health care policies do you support?

Van Drew: “Instead of working to address the root problem of the high cost of healthcare, Congress has increased costs on all of us, and are even trying to make it tougher for those with preexisting conditions to get the coverage they need. Together, we must focus on reforms to the Affordable Care Act that protect our families and small businesses, and work to lower the high cost of healthcare and prescription drugs.”

Kennedy: “I will work to improve the Affordable Care Act to lower health care costs and protect coverage for preexisting conditions. I will stand up to pharmaceutical and health insurance companies to reduce drug prices and out-of-pocket costs. And I will fight to protect and expand Medicare and Medicaid, so that everyone that wants to, can buy insurance coverage.”

What federal policies are needed to return the U.S. economy to pre-pandemic levels?

Van Drew: “We have to work to bring manufacturing jobs back to South Jersey. We have to do all that we can to promote our vital tourism economy. Government needs to do more to help, not hinder, our agriculture and fishing industries. There is so much potential here in South Jersey, and I will work every day to fight to bring jobs back here for our working families.”

Kennedy: In addition to wanting to expand the Earned Income Tax and Child Tax, she endorsed the American Family Act, “which will dramatically expand the Child Tax Credit to make sure that parents can keep up with the rising cost of housing, healthcare, and childcare. ... Additionally, I will co-sponsor the Raise the Wage Act, which by raising the federal minimum wage will increase the incomes of more than 33 million Americans.”

What is your stance on education?

Van Drew: “Education is the essence of American opportunity. A quality education levels the playing field and makes the system fair, but it has become unaffordable for so many South Jersey families. The skyrocketing costs of a college education are saddling many with outrageous student loan debt, which stops young families from becoming first-time home buyers and stagnates economic growth. We must get serious about this financial crisis, and reduce the existing burden so that we can grow our economy.”

Kennedy: “I believe that every student should be able to afford a college education or industry-credentialed training program that leads to a high-paying job. We already have great higher education models in South Jersey, from the Cumberland County Technical Education Center to Rowan University. But we need to do more to ensure that college and training programs remain a pathway to future success – not a pathway to crushing debt.”