CHERRY HILL — U.S. Rep. Donald Norcross kicked off his re-election campaign Wednesday with the backing of New Jersey leaders of both Hillary Clinton's and Bernie Sanders' presidential campaigns, and his own pledge to continue to fight for South Jersey residents.
Speaking at the ongoing construction site for a planned expansion of Kennedy University Hospital in Cherry Hill, Norcross highlighted his own working-class roots and his commitment to tackling issues such as boosting the minimum wage, increasing affordable higher education, finding common-sense gun control and combating terrorism.
"Somebody asked me, 'How is it in Congress? Is it frustrating?' To me, I look at 'frustrating' as sort of you're giving up," Norcross said in his kickoff speech. "I look at it as challenging. I see the issues, I see the roadblocks, and I look to find a way around that. That's why I'm running for Congress again. I want to be that fighter that I was in Trenton and I am in Washington."
Norcross, who lives in Camden, enters the race as a huge favorite to return to his seat representing the solidly Democratic 1st District, which includes most of Camden County, a large part of Gloucester County, and the Burlington County towns of Maple Shade and Palmyra.
He was elected two years ago as the replacement for Rep. Rob Andrews, defeating Republican Garry "G" Cobb, a former Philadelphia Eagles linebacker and sports talk radio host, in the general election.
This cycle, he's being challenged in the Democratic primary by Alex Law, a 24-year-old former IBM consultant from Collingswood — and an early endorser of Sanders.
Despite Law's vocal support for the Vermont senator's White House bid, New Jersey Assemblyman John Wisniewski, Sanders' New Jersey chairman, joined Norcross at his kickoff event and spoke in support of his return to Congress, describing the former electrician and state lawmaker as an ideal representative in Washington.
He cited Norcross' work during his five years in the New Jersey Legislature, where he served as an assemblyman and senator representing the 5th Legislative District, as well as Norcross' time as a member of the Democratic National Committee.
"Underneath that very well-coiffed exterior is the heart and soul of a man who cares about the working men and women, who understands the struggles they face every single day," Wisniewski said. "He's now their voice in Washington."
In a statement, Law said "real Bernie supporters" question Wisniewski's support for Norcross, claiming the incumbent has voted with Republicans more than any other Democrat in the New Jersey delegation.
"Bernie supporters around the state have already been looking at Sayreville skeptically, as Mr. Wisniewski has been unable to put together the kind of robust coordination that Bernie needs in New Jersey, and I am sure this will add to their mistrust," Law said..
"Our campaign has brought together hundreds of volunteers to knock on tens of thousands of doors. The truth is, voters are not fond of Mr. Norcross and are excited by our campaign. We expect it to be close, but we believe we will win on June 7. Mr. Norcross may have a lot of money, but it's expensive to convince people that the vinegar he is selling is actually water."
Norcross was also joined at the kickoff by New Jersey Democratic State Committee chairman John Currie and vice chairwoman Lizette Delgado-Polanco, who is also a New Jersey surrogate for Clinton's campaign.
"It's my honor to see him today and be here to support him in his re-election," Delgado-Polanco said. "He's a true champion in New Jersey for working families."
Norcross may enjoy the backing of both presidential campaigns, but so far he hasn't made his own choice about which presidential candidate should be the Democrats' standard-bearer this fall.
Norcross and his older brother, Democratic power broker George Norcross, are among New Jersey's 18 superdelegates, who are free to support any presidential candidate during the upcoming Democratic National Convention.
Neither Norcross has committed to either Clinton or Sanders.
In his address, Norcross spoke largely of his goals and objectives for a new term, saying he hoped to continue pushing legislation he penned to boost the minimum wage to $15 and to give veterans a choice for accessing health care. He also said he would be a voice in support of smart gun control measures and providing more resources to tackle heroin and prescription drug addiction, noting it has caused 47,000 deaths a year nationwide.
"It's everywhere. They get treatment they need or they get buried," he said. "We must do more. We can do more."