Will the 'Brett Bounce' Unseat Bob Menendez in New Jersey?
It’s becoming increasingly obvious that Senate Democrats overplayed their hand with how they handled the Kavanaugh hearings. As PJ Media’s Tyler O’Neil covered earlier, recent polling has shown that Republicans, galvanized by the character assassination of Brett Kavanaugh, have, at least for now, closed the voter enthusiasm gap for the upcoming November midterm elections—called the "Brett Bounce" by Mike Allen of Axios. Midterm elections are historically very bad for the party in power. Simply put, anger motivates voters to vote. Democrats had been hoping that President Trump’s lackluster approval ratings would amplify their turnout above historical norms, and they’d experience a “blue wave” to match the Tea Party gains during the Obama years.
Several key Senate races have appeared to tighten or push the Republican into safe victory territory in states like Montana, Indiana, West Virginia, North Dakota. But one state often overlooked as a potential GOP pickup is New Jersey. Embattled Sen. Bob Menendez appears to be vulnerable. So much so that Ryan Cooper over at The Week blames the Democratic Party for not getting rid of Menendez while they had the chance. “Democrats could have ditched this turkey for virtually any other person in the state and cruised to victory,” Cooper wrote. “Instead, top Democrats like Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) protected and enabled him.”
According to Real Clear Politics, recent polls all have shown Menendez ahead, but with varying leads, but a Politico poll from earlier this week shows the race in a virtual tie. The problem comes down to Menendez, who is notoriously corrupt and only survived corruption charges last year because of a mistrial. Menendez’s favorability is in the red, and a large majority of voters say the corruption charges against him are either extremely important or significant in their vote.
The chance to replace Menendez as a candidate has passed. As Ryan Cooper noted, when Democrat Phil Murphy became governor, Democrats had the chance to replace Menendez with another Democrat, rather than hold on to him, because former Governor Chris Christie would have appointed a Republican to replace him. But, they didn’t. “On the contrary, the entire New Jersey Democratic machine — which is very nearly as corrupt as that of New York state, and that is saying a lot — circled the wagons around Menendez.”
In addition to the corruption charges he was put on trial for, there are also allegations—credible allegations—of underage prostitution. These charges weren’t allowed to be brought up during the trial, but federal prosecutors said they had corroborating evidence to support the allegations.
The prostitution claims, first reported by The Daily Caller in 2012, suggested Menendez and his co-defendant on bribery charges, eye doctor and businessman Salomon Melgen, traveled to the Dominican Republic to have sex with prostitutes.
“While those allegations have not resulted in any criminal charges, there can be no question that the Government has an obligation to take such allegations regarding potential harm to minors very seriously, regardless of who the alleged perpetrators may be,” the filing says.
“Presented with specific, corroborated allegations that defendants Menendez and Melgen had sex with underage prostitutes in the Dominican Republic, the Government responsibly and dutifully investigated those serious allegations,” the filing says. “The indictment here, of course, charges only corruption and does not include any allegations of soliciting underage prostitution.”
In the #MeToo era, it seems implausible that any sitting U.S. senator could survive politically when federal prosecutors accuse you of leaving the country “for the purpose of engaging in a commercial sex act with a minor” and claim to have corroborating evidence. The allegations of underage prostitution by Menendez are not only serious but corroborated, according to federal prosecutors. What were New Jersey Democrats thinking by sticking with Menendez? What were Senators Schumer and Booker thinking by protecting someone accused by federal prosecutors of underage prostitution?
The bottom line here is that while recent polling suggests that Menendez might be safe, there are plenty of reasons for Democrats to be concerned about losing this seat. Republicans have a unique opportunity to flip the heavily politicized #MeToo narrative against Menendez by reminding New Jersey voters just how sleazy Menendez really is. New Jersey has elected Republicans for statewide office in the past, and if there was ever a time for them to do it again, it is now.
Matt Margolis is the author of the book, The Scandalous Presidency of Barack Obama and the bestselling book The Worst President in History: The Legacy of Barack Obama. You can follow Matt on Twitter @MattMargolis