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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Sen. Bob Menéndez, on trial, files to run for reelection as an independent

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) testifies during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Capitol Hill, in Washington, Jan. 25, 2023. Menendez, a lifelong Democrat who is in his fourth week of a federal bribery trial, filed paperwork Monday, June 3, 2024, to run for re-election as an independent in November. (Haiyun Jiang/The New York Times)

By Tracey Tully

Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey, a lifelong Democrat who is in his fourth week of a federal bribery trial, filed paperwork earlier this week to run for reelection as an independent in November.

The specter of Menendez, 70, trying to mount a comeback campaign raises the possibility of a splintered Democratic vote in November’s election, creating a wider lane for the Republican nominee at a time when Democrats are struggling to retain their narrow majority in the Senate.

Menendez has been abandoned by most of the state’s leading Democrats, who quickly called on him to resign after he was indicted on corruption charges last year. He has defiantly refused to step down, but he opted not to run in Tuesday’s Democratic primary.

He never, however, shut the door to running as an independent — enabling him to continue to raise and spend campaign contributions on lawyers hired to defend him and his wife, Nadine Menendez, who is also charged in the bribery conspiracy.

His trial is likely to last for at least another month; he has until the middle of August to withdraw from the Nov. 5 election.

The Democratic front-runner for Bob Menendez’s seat, Rep. Andy Kim, was quick to criticize the embattled senator’s entry into the race as selfish.

“Everyone knows Bob Menendez isn’t running for NJ families,” Kim wrote on social media. “He’s running for himself. People are fed up with politicians putting their own personal benefit ahead of what’s right for the country.”

Spokespeople for Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and the Senate Democrats’ campaign arm in Washington both declined to comment.

Several Republicans are competing for the Senate nomination in Tuesday’s primary. Registered Democrats outnumber Republicans in New Jersey by more than 900,000, and it has been a half-century since the liberal-leaning state elected a Republican to the U.S. Senate.

Still Mike Berg, a spokesperson for the Republicans’ national campaign operation, said the party was “keeping a close eye on New Jersey.”

The move leaves Menendez’s son, Rep. Rob Menendez, in an awkward position on the eve of his Democratic primary against Ravi Bhalla, the mayor of Hoboken, New Jersey. Rob Menendez, 38, has worked to distance himself from his father’s legal trouble and has not been accused of wrongdoing.

An aide to the congressman had no immediate comment on the senator’s plans or on how they might affect his son’s ability to win reelection to a second term in the House. But the continued public focus on the senator’s legal troubles has made his son’s reelection battle far harder.

It’s unclear how Bob Menendez would successfully run a campaign. He has no paid campaign staff and a rapidly dwindling campaign war chest. His chief of staff, Jason Tuber, is leaving for a job as a lobbyist for a New Jersey-based snack manufacturer, and two of his top Senate communications staff members quit months ago.

He has spent at least $3 million of his campaign contributions on lawyers working to defend him against charges that he meddled in criminal investigations in New Jersey, steered aid to Egypt and obstructed justice by trying to make bribes appear to be loans.

Polls have shown that roughly 75% of New Jersey residents are already convinced that he is guilty of the charges, and an equal percentage said they disapproved of his performance in the Senate, making his odds of winning as an independent even longer.

Several men delivered the nominating petitions to the Department of State in Trenton, New Jersey, Monday afternoon on behalf of Menendez, who was in a New York courtroom all day.

The filing showed he had collected 2,465 signatures — three times the required minimum. Opponents have until June 10 to challenge their validity.

After court on Monday, Menendez confirmed that he had personally collected signatures. He also reiterated that he expected to be exonerated, and he listed several ways in which he had helped New Jerseyans in times of real need during his tenure in Congress.

He said he believed the trial was going well.

“We are discrediting the government’s witnesses,” he added, speaking in Spanish to a question posed by a Spanish-speaking reporter. “We are turning them into our witnesses and we’re showing our innocence.”

People familiar with the reelection filing said that many of the signatures appeared to be from residents of northern Hudson County, where the senator was raised and where he got his start as a politician, as mayor of Union City.

Indeed, on Friday night, he was in Union City eating at one of his favorite Cuban restaurants, La Gran Via.

“He’s a friend for a long time in this place,” said Alfredo Guardado, an owner of the restaurant.

Coincidentally, the current mayor of Union City, Brian Stack — one of Rob Menendez’s biggest campaign boosters — was eating there at the same time, Guardado said.

The two men did not dine together.

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1 Comment

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Jun 06

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