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

“There’s a burden there [Majority Leader] chuck schumer Now. As [New Jersey Gov.] Phil Murphy has skillfully led New Jersey Democrats to distance themselves from this debacle, the Senate caucus needs to do the same,” says former Democratic Senator Robert Torricelli. “Otherwise you’ll have to have candidates in competitive states like Montana and West Virginia answer questions about Menendez and whether he represents a problem in the party.”

Menendez’s defiance is likely to cost Democrats a key seat when they already have only a one-member majority. But Schumer is remaining cautious, saying only that Menendez is a “dedicated public servant and has always been working hard for the people of New Jersey” who has “the right to due process and a fair trial.” The White House said the same thing on Monday.

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

In a little more than a month, all 120 seats in the New Jersey Legislature will be up. And Democrats, who have a 25-15 majority in the state Senate and a 46-34 majority in the General Assembly, were already going through a difficult year before the Menendez news broke, facing Republican attacks on school policies regarding transgender children and pushback. Were struggling to do. For offshore wind projects.

Republicans are already trying to monopolize impeachment.

New Jersey Republican state Chairman Bob Hugin, who was the unsuccessful GOP candidate against Menendez in 2018, said, “I think it’s representative of the mess that’s out there, and voters will take that to heart.”

Menendez was convicted on corruption charges in 2015, defeated via mistrial in 2017, and defeated Hugin by 11 points on an anti-Trump wave. This gave the senator the aura of New Jersey’s last political survivor.

He is now confident about his own staying power. At a press conference on Monday, Menendez refused to resign and claimed he had once again been wrongly accused – rejecting allegations that he had stolen gold bars, cash and a Mercedes-Benz. Took bribe. The senator did not say whether he would seek re-election, nor did he deny it.

Should Menendez choose to run, his prospects cannot be immediately ruled out. As of June 30, he had approximately $8 million in his campaign account.

Still, he faces long odds.

The allegations Menendez made before the 2018 election were much harder for the public to digest than the allegations he faces now, and they almost certainly won’t be resolved before November 2024. That’s why much of the state Democratic Party apparatus, which had supported Menendez during his previous legal crisis, called on him Friday afternoon to resign.

Most of New Jersey’s 21 counties have a unique ballot design in which candidates are awarded a “line” in the primary – favorable ballot placement that places the party-supported candidate with all others who received the party’s endorsement. That is, the ballot paper from top to bottom. Most Democratic county chairs have called on Menendez to resign, saying he is unlikely to get a top ballot spot in most, if not all, counties.

Even in 2018, when state Democrats were firmly with Menendez, his only primary challenger, finance-less and largely unknown Lisa McCormick, won 38 percent of the vote against him. This was widely read as a protest vote by primary voters, and does not bode well for Menendez in 2024, in which he had no advantage six years ago.

Now, leading state Democrats – from Governor Phil Murphy on down – are calling on the senator to step down. And New Jersey’s junior senator and close ally Cory Booker has said nothing publicly, despite being one of the first to defend Menendez after his last impeachment.

Notably, no prominent elected officials stood behind Menendez on Monday when he made his first public appearance since Friday’s impeachment.

There are some Democrats — particularly in Menendez’s home base Hudson County — who won’t count him out. Hudson County Democratic Chairman Anthony Vainieri has not called on the senator to resign and told Politico on Saturday that the senator is “like a rock star” to residents there.

But Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop, a Hudson County Democrat who is running for governor in 2025, was dismissive of Vainieri’s comments. He doubts that the senator’s native county will be behind him when it comes time to provide county lines.

“I think what he was trying to say was that in the community he came from, people still admire him. That doesn’t mean the political world respects him,” Fulop, who has had a historically strained relationship with Menendez, said in an interview. He said, “I don’t see any electoral possibility of this.” [Menendez] being successful. And, to be honest, I don’t think he sees it in the first place.”

But Menendez could still be a problem for the party, threatening state Democrats’ prospects this year, Fulop said. State-level elections without a governor on the ballot tend to be low-turnout affairs where only the most committed voters turn out. And now, one of New Jersey’s most high-profile politicians — and its most senior statewide elected official — is getting massive media attention for all the wrong reasons.

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

“You’re looking at core Democratic and Republican voters who will vote in off cycles like this and be mad about a specific issue amplified on social media,” he said. “Now, a month away from the election, you are touching voters who are not necessarily engaged in the political process.

“What does this do to them? “Does it make them want to join?”

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