What you need to know
- U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez and his wife are accused of using his foreign affairs influence to help Egypt in return for bribes.
- Investigators say a search of Menendez’s home yielded nearly $500,000 in hidden cash and $100,000 in gold bars.
- The indictment is the second in eight years against Menendez. His unrelated 2015 indictment ended in a mistrial.
- Gov. Phil Murphy has called the the senior senator’s resignation.
- Here are some key takeaways from Friday’s indictment.
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New Jersey Sen. Bob Menedez’s re-election chances shifted significantly Saturday when U.S. Rep. Andy Kim declared his intention to challenge the three-term incumbent.
Micah Rasmussen, director of the Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics at Rider University, said Kim has “re-cast the entire crisis.”
“He’s saying ‘I have identified a need. My constituents, my state needs this to be done. We’ve got to clean up this mess, and I’m gonna roll up my sleeves and do it,’” Rasmussen said.
In a statement announcing his run, Kim, a three-term Democratic congressman, said he felt “compelled to run” after Menendez declared he is “not going anywhere.” The senior Senator defiantly refused calls to step down on Friday from the state’s top Democrats, including Gov. Phil Murphy.
“[Kim] is not being calculating, he’s not being careful, he’s not being measured,” Rassmussen said. “He didn’t consult with a pollster, he didn’t consult with whether or not he was going to gauge the support of other county organizations around the state.”
Kim himself said he was not expecting to run for Senate, but added “I believe New Jersey deserves better.”
“We cannot jeopardize the Senate or compromise our country’s integrity,” said Kim. “I believe it’s time we restore faith in our democracy, and that’s why I am stepping up and running for Senate.”
Menendez is now vulnerable
A Monmouth University Poll from August found Menendez’s job approval rating declining over the past year; from 44% among registered voters in April 2022 to 36% recently.
The recent numbers reflect Menendez being under federal investigation at the time. Six in 10 state residents polled thought the investigation affected his ability to serve, at least somewhat.
“The current poll results suggest news of a new federal probe is having an impact on that opinion, perhaps even more so than the last time he faced similar scrutiny,” Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute, said at the time.
According to Rasmussen, Menedez is now “extremely vulnerable” and believes the incumbent is going to hold out for “as long as he possibly can.”
“There’s some utility in that,” he explains. “He can continue to raise money for his legal defense the longer he holds himself out there … sometimes, defendants who are public officials hold their office … and the resignation out there until the last possible moment until it makes maximum advantage and say ‘I’ll resign if I can get a better deal out of the prosecution.’”
Six Democrats have filed to challenge Menendez, according to the Federal Election Commission. However, according to the most recent campaign finance report, only Roselle Park Mayor Joe Signorello has raised money for their campaign, showing he has a little more than $86,000, compared to Menenez’s $7.8 million.
In the same reporting cycle through then of June, Kim’s Congressional campaign reported more than $882,000 on hand.
If Menedez wants the field to himself, “that’s not gonna happen now,” according to Rasmussen. He adds with Kim declaring his challenge, Menedez will have “top tier opposition.”
“His political support has dried up, the charges are completely different,” he said. “They’re very graphic. They leave nothing to the imagination for the voter and so it’s going to be really, really hard for him to run again.”
From a fairly safe district to statewide uncertainty
In his re-election bid last year, Kim cruised to a third term in the House representing a newly drawn 3rd Congressional District that now leans more Democratic. He had to introduce himself to new constituencies in Mercer and Monmouth counties.
That recent experience will be a benefit to Kim, according to Rasmussen.
“I think every time you run at a different level or a higher level, you’re introducing yourself to new voters,” he said. “He was introducing himself in Mercer County, in Hamilton, and Lawrence, places he had not represented before and by all accounts he did very well there.”
Before redistricting, Kim represented part of conservative-leaning Ocean County. He ousted Tom McArthur in 2018 to claim his first term.
“He can make the case to anybody who is concerned about new representation … diverse representation, about representing the voters as they are in this part of the state,” he said.