Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) skated on public corruption charges dropped by the Department of Justice in January, but he now faces a five month trial in the court of public opinion among New Jersey voters, who will deliver their verdict in the November general election for the U.S. Senate seat in New Jersey.
His weak performance against an unknown and unfunded challenger in Tuesday’s Democratic U.S. Senate primary, combined with the huge financial resources of his Republican general election opponent, Bob Hugin, spells trouble for him–and the Democratic Party–in November.
“Lisa McCormick’s surprisingly strong showing against U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez in Tuesday’s Democratic primary begs the question: What about Bob?” Jonathan Salant wrote at NJ.com:
McCormick, a virtual unknown who did not report spending any money on the race, received the support of almost 4 in 10 Democratic voters.
While Menendez, D-N.J., was never seriously threatened with losing his party’s nomination for another Senate term, his performance wasn’t a good sign coming on the heels of his Senate Ethics Committee admonishment and a criminal corruption trial that ended in a hung jury before the charges were dropped.
“This is closer than we expected, but only because we expect huge margins for candidates with as much party and institutional support as Senator Menendez has,” said Matthew Hale, a political science professor at Seton Hall University. “In most places, a 60/40 win is considered a drubbing.”
Not in this place.
The final tally in the New Jersey U.S. Senate Democrat primary, with 99.6 percent of precincts reporting, was 62 percent for Menendez (258,042 votes) and 38 percent for McCormick (157,263 votes).
McCormick, a hard core Bernie Sanders supporter with little in the way of professional accomplishments, did not even raise the $5,000 required to file a candidate’s Federal Election Commission report.
“Bob Menendez performed terribly against a totally unknown challenger. … Even a significant number of New Jersey Democrats made it clear they don’t want him re-elected,” Republican National Committee spokesperson Michael Ahrens said of Tuesday’s results in New Jersey.
On the Republican side, retired pharmaceutical executive Bob Hugin easily won with 75 percent (167,000 votes) over Bob Goldberg’s 25 percent (55,229 votes.)
Among all primary votes cast in both parties, Menendez received 258,042 votes, while the two Republicans and his Democratic primary challenger received 379,492 votes.
The key question to be determined over the next five months is where the 157,263 votes cast for McCormick in the Democratic primary against Menendez will end up in November.
Hugin would need at least 59 percent of Democrats who voted in the primary for McCormick to cross party lines and vote for him in November to pull off a stunning upset of Menendez.
Financial resources will not be an obstacle for Hugin, whose net worth is estimated to be in excess of $50 million. He has loaned his campaign $7.5 million, and is expected to add to that amount between now and the November election.
In a state where President Trump remains under water in recent approval ratings, Hugin has made it clear he will make the election about Bob Menendez, not Donald Trump.
“Tonight was a major step forward for our campaign and for New Jersey. But make no mistake – this is just the beginning. Our goal is victory in November and once again giving New Jersey a Senator it can be proud of,” Hugin said in a statement released after he was declared the winner of the Republican primary.
“In the Marines, it’s not about Democrats or Republicans, it’s about working together,” the former Marine added.
“Frankly, that’s what we need more of in Congress, and that’s the kind of Senator I will be for New Jersey – an independent voice who always puts our state and our people first. No exceptions. I am pro-choice, pro-marriage equality, and I strongly support equal pay for equal work. I believe we – as a party and as a country – need to fix our immigration system in a comprehensive and compassionate way,” Hugin concluded, a clear sign he intends to appeal to Democrats in the general election.
Hugin will have five months to present the case for the prosecution against Menendez to New Jersey voters who will comprise the jury in the court of public opinion.
Though the penalty Menendez faces–losing his Senate seat–is far lighter than the long prison sentence that awaited a conviction on any of the now dropped public corruption charges filed against him, it is one that both he and the Democratic Party will be forced to spend significant financial resources to avoid, and there is no guarantee they will succeed in that effort.