Bob Menendez’s Political Career May Be Over, But Why Did It Take so Long?

AP Photo/Andres Kudacki

It has never ceased to amaze me how Sen. Bob Menendez has managed to stay politically viable, even in the blue state of New Jersey. But it appears that the expiration date on Menendez’s political career is fast approaching.

In light of his recent indictment on federal bribery charges, Democrats in New Jersey and the Senate promptly called for him to resign — something Menendez has defiantly refused to do — but that may not matter. According to new polling, New Jersey Democrat voters have finally soured on the man.

A new survey by Data for Progress has found that only 9% of New Jersey Democrats say they’d vote to reelect him. Primary challenger Andy Kim (D-N.J.) leads the race with 48% of Democrats supporting him. Another candidate gets 3%, and 40% are currently undecided. 78% of those surveyed think he should resign.

I’m shocked. For real. History has shown that the voters of New Jersey have a knack for turning a blind eye to the blatant corruption of this notoriously sleazy politician, and he’s survived some real doozies. In fact, had you asked me weeks ago if Menendez would survive this scandal, I would have said absolutely. And why not? The Democratic Party is notorious for electing and reelecting sleazy and corrupt politicians, and Menendez has managed to survive politically for decades. Why would things be any different now just because he now faces federal bribery charges?

Related: A New Troubling Twist in the Menendez Corruption Scandal

In 2006, Menendez was appointed to the Senate by newly elected Gov. Jon Corzine, who had vacated the very Senate seat Menendez was filling. Even back then, he was tainted by scandal. It was revealed at the time that Menendez had had a long-term affair with his former chief of staff who had become a lobbyist and political consultant. He steered more than $200,000 in contracts to her business and helped her new firm make huge amounts of money, turning her business into an overnight success. Other accusations against Menendez at the time included awarding a contract to a campaign contributor. Later that year, Menendez ran for a full term, easily defeating his Republican challenger.

The dark cloud of corruption never left Menendez. In 2012, he and businessman Salomon Melgen were accused of having sex with underage prostitutes in the Dominican Republic. Naturally, his fellow Democrats ignored the accusations, and the media downplayed and discredited them. Even though federal prosecutors believed Menendez was guilty, the Obama Justice Department never charged Menendez. It’s a serious crime, and the mere accusation should have made him vulnerable. Yet the voters of New Jersey once again reelected him.

Subsequently, in 2015 Menendez faced federal corruption charges and once more escaped legal action related to the underage prostitution allegations, despite the corroborating evidence. He nevertheless stood trial for the corruption charges, which concluded in a mistrial. It’s hard to imagine a sitting senator being put on trial for federal corruption and it not ending his political career. He was reelected in 2018 with 54% of the vote.

Not only were New Jersey voters unfazed by the accusations, but Senate Democrats couldn’t have cared less either, as Menendez was given the influential role of ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee — a position he held until his latest indictment on bribery charges, only because Democratic party regulations compelled him to step aside from the position.

It’s hard to believe that finally, after nearly twenty years of being tainted by scandal in the Senate, Menendez finally seems to have reached the end of the road for his political viability.


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