Well, I thought I’d never see the day when I'd read these words: the New Jersey Senate race is a toss-up. Yes, the deep blue state could, emphasis on “could,” see a GOP upset, leading to the first Republican senator from the Garden State since…1972. It appears that even voters in the very blue state of New Jersey are not all that thrilled with incumbent Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez’s ethics troubles.
Republican candidate Bob Hugin has been waging a rather impressive onslaught on Menendez and the race was moved into the toss-up column by Cook Political Report last Friday (via The Hill):
Jennifer Duffy, a Senate analyst for Cook, wrote on Friday that the race has become solely about Menendez’s ethics problems and voters' lack of enthusiasm. Menendez, who has denied any wrongdoing, has weathered attacks over his 2015 indictment of bribery and fraud charges.
His trial ended in a hung jury, and federal prosecutors later dropped the charges. But the Senate Ethics Committee “severely” admonished Menendez earlier this year over the case.
“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,” Duffy said.
“There is certainly a thumb on the scale for Menendez, who is said to have a lead of between four and six points, in this very blue state, but the race is close enough to warrant a move to Toss Up.”
This isn’t new. Menendez's woes have been documented since August. Menendez was the subject of a high-profile corruption case in which he was accused of accepting lavish gifts in exchange for using his office to help longtime friend Dr. Salomon Melgen. While the case ended with a hung jury, the Senate Ethics Committee torched the New Jersey Democrat:
The Senate Ethics Committee “severely admonished” Senator Robert Menendez on Thursday for accepting gifts from a wealthy doctor while using his position as a senator to promote the doctor’s personal and financial interests.
It also ordered Mr. Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, to repay the market value of all improper gifts he has not already repaid.
The admonition stems from the same actions for which Mr. Menendez was indicted in 2015. His trial — in which the doctor, Salomon E. Melgen, was a co-defendant — ended with a deadlocked jury in November 2017, and the federal government chose not to retry Mr. Menendez. In its letter of admonition, the Ethics Committee acknowledged that the trial “did not result in a conviction,” but wrote, “The criminal system, however, neither enforces nor supplants the Senate’s rules or standards of conduct, and the committee’s action stands independent from that result.”
The committee’s three Republicans and three Democrats found that from 2006 to 2013, Mr. Menendez “knowingly and repeatedly accepted gifts of significant value from Dr. Melgen without obtaining required committee approval” and “failed to publicly disclose certain gifts as required by Senate rule and federal law.” The gifts included private flights and nights at luxury hotels, among them a villa in the Dominican Republic.
Senator Robert Menendez’s corruption trial had barely ended at the federal courthouse in Newark, but his team was already feverishly working the phones. Within 24 hours, nearly every major Democratic public official in New Jersey — from the newly elected governor to influential state legislators to powerful county chairs — had pledged their endorsement.
Mr. Menendez’s ability to quickly unite fellow Democrats behind him so soon after his trial concluded in a hung jury and even before prosecutors dropped the case seemed to assure a relatively smooth glide to re-election in an increasingly blue state, which had just elected a Democratic governor by 13 points.
But six months later, the road has become unexpectedly bumpy.
September and October brought polling which has raised eyebrows, even at left-wing Salon.com. Now, I’m still leaning toward Menendez winning, albeit by single-digits. It’ll certainly be the closest a Republican has come to knocking off a Democrat in New Jersey. Menendez still leads, but you can see a clear decline over the past few months. Guy wrote that three million in cash was injected into this race by Democrats, which shows you that even they aren’t risking any chances in this reliably blue state.
It’s about time Bob started to sweat a little.
Inbox: Bob Hugin will be the first Republican U.S. Senate candidate endorsed by the Latino Leadership Alliance of New Jersey PAC.— Noah Rothman (@NoahCRothman) October 25, 2018