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Bob Menendez’s challenge could be an electoral nightmare for Democrats

“There is a burden on (the majority leader) Chuck Schumer right now. Just as (New Jersey Gov.) Phil Murphy has skillfully guided New Jersey Democrats to break away from this debacle, the Senate caucus must do the same,” says former Democratic Sen. Robert Torricelli. “Otherwise, candidates in competitive states like Montana and West Virginia will have to answer questions about Menendez and whether he represents a problem in the party.”

Menendez’s challenge has the potential to cost Democrats a critical seat when they already have a majority of just one member. But Schumer remains cautious for now. saying just that Menendez is a “dedicated public servant and is always fighting hard for the people of New Jersey” who “have the right to due process and a fair trial.” The White House said much the same thing on Monday.

More immediately, Menendez’s impeachment is a major headache for Democrats in New Jersey.

In just over a month, all 120 seats in the New Jersey Legislature are filled. And Democrats, who hold a 25-15 majority in the state Senate and a 46-34 majority in the General Assembly, were already having a difficult year before the Menendez news broke, struggling to counter the attacks. Republicans to school policies regarding transgender children and opposition. to offshore wind projects.

Republicans are already trying to monopolize the prosecution.

“I think it’s representative of the sleaze that exists, and voters will take that into account,” said New Jersey Republican state chairman Bob Hugin, who was the unsuccessful GOP candidate against Menendez in 2018.

Menendez was accused of corruption in 2015, defeated them through a mistrial in 2017 and beat Hugin by 11 points in an anti-Trump wave. That gave the senator the aura of New Jersey’s ultimate political survivor.

He is now convinced of his own staying power. At a news conference on Monday, Menendez refused to resign and claimed that he was once again being wrongly accused, dismissing allegations that he had accepted bribes in the form of gold bars, cash and a Mercedes-Benz. The senator did not say whether he would seek re-election nor did he rule it out.

If Menendez decides to run, his prospects cannot be immediately discounted. As of June 30, he had nearly $8 million in his campaign account.

Still, he would face great difficulties.

The charges Menendez defeated before the 2018 election were much harder for the public to swallow than the ones he faces now, and they almost certainly won’t be resolved before November 2024. That’s part of the reason the The majority of the state Democratic Party apparatus, which backed Menendez during his previous legal troubles, on Friday afternoon called on him to resign.

New Jersey has a unique ballot design in most of its 21 counties in which candidates are given “the line” in the primary: a favorable placement on the ballot that places a party-endorsed candidate among all candidates. others who have received the support of the party, from the top of the list. the vote until the end. With most Democratic county chairs calling for Menendez to resign, it is unlikely that he will get the top spot on the ballot in most, if not all, counties.

Even in 2018, when Menendez was strongly backed by state Democrats, his only primary challenger, the underfunded and largely unknown Lisa McCormick, garnered 38 percent of the vote against him. This was widely interpreted as a protest vote by primary voters, and does not bode well for a Menendez candidacy in 2024 without any of the advantages she enjoyed six years earlier.

Now, top state Democrats, from Gov. Phil Murphy on down, are calling on the senator to step aside. And Cory Booker, the junior senator from New Jersey and a close ally, has said nothing publicly despite being one of the first to defend Menendez after his latest accusation.

Notably, no major elected officials supported Menendez on Monday when he made his first public appearance since Friday’s indictment.

There are some Democrats, especially in Hudson County, where Menendez resides, who won’t rule him out. Hudson County Democratic Chairman Anthony Vainieri did not call for the senator’s resignation, telling POLITICO on Saturday that the senator is “like a rock star” to residents there.

But Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop, a Hudson County Democrat running for governor in 2025, dismissed Vainieri’s comments. He doubts the senator’s home county will support him once it comes time to adjudicate county lines.

“I think what he was trying to say was that, in the community he came from, people still look up to him. That does not mean that the political world respects him,” Fulop, who has a historically tense relationship with Menéndez, said in an interview. “I don’t see any electoral possibility for (Menéndez) to be successful. And, honestly, I don’t think he’ll get it in the primaries.”

But Menendez could still be a problem for the party, Fulop said, threatening state Democrats’ chances this year. Statewide elections without the governor on the ballot are low-turnout affairs in which only the most engaged voters vote. And now, one of New Jersey’s most prominent politicians (and its highest-ranking state elected official) is receiving massive media attention for all the wrong reasons.

“It’s gaining a lot of traction. “There is an army of journalists in Union City,” Fulop said.

“Attention is being paid to core Democratic and Republican voters who would vote in a misplaced cycle like this and be angry about a specific issue amplified on social media,” he said. “Now, a month before the election, we are touching voters who are not necessarily involved in the political process.

“What does that do to them? Does it make them want to participate?

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