Menendez Could Be a Spoiler in the N.J. Senate Race

AP Photo/Seth Wenig

Bob Menendez, the scandal-plagued senator from New Jersey, has decided to file for reelection as an independent — a move he’s making just before the deadline to file.

According to a report from the New Jersey Globe, Menendez has filed nominating petitions with over 2,000 signatures — enough to qualify to appear on the ballot.

The New Jersey Globe first reported that Menendez is circulating petitions – in some cases gathering signatures on his own.  He also activated a group of old friends from his 1980s campaigns, including Matteo Perez, Sr., to help him.  NBC News reported last week that Menendez had obtained the 800 signatures he needed.

The New Jersey Globe has confirmed that Menendez has no campaign staff and is managing his own race.

Four days before the March 26 filing deadline, Menendez announced that he would not enter the Democratic primary but made it clear that he was considering a re-election campaign as an independent Democrat if a jury exonerated him.

His criminal trial is expected to last at least another four weeks, but entering the race now preserves his option to make a final decision after he knows the verdict.

Independent candidates have until August 16 to withdraw.

Why does this matter? Because if Menendez is acquitted — we’ll get to that later — his presence on the ballot could put his Senate seat in play for the Republican Party for the first time in decades.

A survey by Data for Progress released in October found that only 9% of New Jersey Democrats say they’d vote to reelect him. According to recent polls that FiveThirtyEight tracked, Andy Kim, the leading candidate in the Democratic primary, still leads with Menendez on the ballot, but his lead shrinks when Menendez is included.

Kim blasted Menendez on social media on Monday.

Kim is right, of course. But Menendez has long been given every reason to believe that the Democrat voters of New Jersey would tolerate his corruption.

Menendez has been under the dark cloud of scandal since he was first appointed to the Senate in 2006. Allegations surfaced of a prolonged affair with his former chief of staff, who became a lobbyist. He allegedly directed lucrative contracts her way, boosting her business's fortune overnight. Despite these allegations, Menendez secured a full term in the Senate that same year.

Flashback: Barack Obama Offered Jeremiah Wright Hush Money During 2008 Campaign

In 2012, accusations emerged linking him and businessman Salomon Melgen to underage prostitution in the Dominican Republic. Though federal prosecutors leaned towards guilt, the Obama administration refrained from charging him. In 2015, Menendez faced corruption charges, yet again dodging legal repercussions regarding the prostitution claims. He stood trial for corruption, which resulted in a mistrial. Yet Menendez retained his political standing, winning reelection in 2018.

New Jersey voters and Senate Democrats displayed remarkable indifference to these scandals. Menendez even ascended to a prominent role as the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, a position he relinquished only due to party regulations upon facing bribery charges in his latest indictment. 

Given his history, I can absolutely see him beating the charges against him. Menendez must know that if he beats the charges (which sadly isn’t outside the realm of possibility), he can’t win as an independent candidate. Perhaps he may be counting on vindication to make him viable enough to force Kim to drop out or he’s just angry enough at his own party for abandoning him he actually wants to be a spoiler.


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