New Jersey Senate Race Becomes ‘Toss Up’ as Democrats Shift Millions to Save Bob Menendez

New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez, the Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate in New Jersey, speaks to reporters after a debate with Republican candidate Bob Hugin, Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2018, in Newark, N.J. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
AP Photo/Julio Cortez

The Cook Political Report moved the New Jersey Senate race to a “toss up” on Friday as Democrats shifted millions of dollars to the Garden State to save Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) in deep-blue New Jersey.

The Cook report moved the race from “Lean Democrat” to “Toss Up” in a state that Hillary Clinton won by 14 points during the 2016 presidential election. The election between Menendez and Republican challenger Bob Hugin has become increasingly competitive given that the race has centered on the New Jersey Democrat’s ethical problems. Menendez narrowly escaped public corruption charges; however, the jury declared a mistrial.

The Obama DOJ released a report in 2015, which detailed how they found “corroborating evidence” that Sen. Menendez and Democrat mega-donor Dr. Salomon Melgen had sex with underage prostitutes in the Dominican Republic.

The Cook report contended that Menendez’s biggest threat to re-election does not come from Hugin — it comes from New Jersey voters who want to send a message to the New Jersey Democrat that they rebuke the corruption charges surrounding his time in office. Menendez nearly lost his Democrat primary to an unknown candidate as a protest vote against Menendez.

Jennifer Duffy, senior editor for the Cook Report, wrote, “The biggest threat to Menendez’s re-election is not so much Hugin than it is the voter who goes to the polls and decides to send Menendez a message, much the way many did in the primary when 38 percent voted for his unknown primary opponent.”

The Senate Majority PAC, the Democrat’s Senate super PAC, deployed an emergency $6.5 million in the Senate race, which includes a $3 million advertising plan this week to bolster Menendez’s chances of getting re-elected.

The Senate Majority PAC’s emergency funding of ads in New Jersey far outpaces their funding of other competitive Senate races in the 2018 midterms, which includes:

  • Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) at $2.5 million.
  • Joe Manchin (D-WV) at $3.7 million.
  • Jon Tester (D-MT) at $1.4 million.
  • Former Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen $3.8 milion.
  • Arizona Democrat candidate $147,000

The Democrats shifting money away from these other competitive districts may aid Menendez but may also hurt the other Senate Democrat candidates’ chances of re-election as Republicans remain poised to gain a stronger majority in the Senate.

Peter Hamby, a political analyst, noted:

Cost of Senate Majority PAC’s ad spend this week to save Bob Menendez: $353,793 on cable, $707K on network (NYC & Philly markets). $1 million/week in a race Dems might blow b/c they protected a terrible candidate. Maybe the angry-at-Beto crowd should be more upset with Menendez?

Meanwhile, Hugin received an endorsement from New Jersey’s leading Latino group as well as local editorial boards who say that Menendez “embarrassed himself and brought disgrace to his office.”

MSNBC host Chris Hayes tweeted, “1000% a problem of Democrats own making.”

Fox News host Bret Baier noted that the New Jersey Senate race could be closer than the Senate race between Sen. Heitkamp and Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-ND) in North Dakota.

During the New Jersey Senate race, Hugin has attacked Menendez over his public corruption charges as well as the charges that Menendez slept with underage prostitutes in the Dominican Republic.

On Thursday, Hugin’s campaign released an ad slamming Menendez for the charges.

In the ad, a mother holding her baby daughter said, “Reading this sworn FBI affidavit, containing allegations Bob Menendez traveled abroad to have sex with underage prostitutes, one thing became clear. I’ll never be able to explain a vote for him to her.”

Democrats across the country hope to pick up 24 seats to gain at least a one-seat majority in the House; however, the New Jersey Democrat’s plummeting polling numbers serves as a risk to other Democrats running in the Garden State. Hugin’s higher polling in the New Jersey Senate race might serve as a boon to House Republicans up for re-election lower on the ballot this November.

For example, a New York Times poll released Friday found that Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-NJ) leads Democrat Andy Kim in New Jersey’s third congressional district.

Hugin said that the New Jersey Senate election is a job interview and New Jerseyans deserve to know the facts regarding the corruption charges brought against Menendez.

Hugin said in an interview with the New Jersey Star-Ledger, “This is a job interview. And the people who are deciding whether to hire you or not should have the full facts. We didn’t say he did anything. We’re just saying, ‘These are the FBI’s sworn affidavits.'”

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