Monday, September 10, 2018

New Jersey U.S. Senate- Race of the Day

57 Days Until Election Day

New Jersey U.S. Senate

Status: Democrat Incumbent
2016 Presidential Result: Blue State (East)

Outlook: Leans Democrat

It is nearly inconceivable to think that New Jersey may elect a Republican to the U.S. Senate this year. It's been decades since GOP sent anyone to the Senate from the state, and while it is unlikely to happen this year, the contest is far greater than it would otherwise be due to the unpopularity of the incumbent.

Bob Menendez, the senior Senator from the Garden State, has held political office for over 30 consecutive years. The son of Cuban immigrants rose through the ranks of the rough and tumble Hudson County Democrat organization and eventually served simultaneously as the Mayor of his hometown and a state legislator. Elected to Congress in 1992, he eventually became a high-ranking member of the House Democrat leadership team. He was more interested in becoming a United States Senator though, and long looked at opportunities to advance there rather than stay on a path that could have eventually made him Speaker. In 2006, he was appointed to the U.S. Senate by the new Governor of New Jersey, who had just vacated the seat .Ethical concerns about Menendez as a "machine pol" had long been present and Republicans felt that he could be vulnerable statewide. Nonetheless, he won fairly easily when facing the state's increasingly Democrat constituency and his 2012 reelection was not even competitive, despite some unfounded rumors surrounding him and underage prostitutes in the Dominican Republic.

With his Senate seat seemingly secure, Menendez became the top ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, and got on the wrong side of the Obama Administration and many in the party. While very liberal across the board, especially on domestic and social issues, the Senator took prominent positions disagreeing with Administration policy on Cuba, Israel, and Iran. In 2015, his situation changed dramatically when the Obama Justice Department (a move some, including those close to Menendez speculated was not a coincidence) indicted Menendez on numerous corruption charges, including those related to favors he was alleged to do for a prominent donor, who also was charged. Upon his indictment, he had no choice but to step down as the ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, but he plead innocent to all charges. The legal case against him looked solid, and as the process dragged on, New Jersey managed to elect a Democrat to replace a GOP Governor, and several ambitious politicians of the party angled to replace what they thought would be a soon imprisoned former Senator. In late 2017 though, a jury failed to reach consensus (though they were mostly leaning towards not guilty) and Menendez had "won" his case via a mistrial. Soon enough, the Trump Justice Department announced they would not retry him.

The reaction from Menendez was to proclaim "to those who were digging my political grave so they could jump into my seat, I know who you are and I won't forget you." He has since returned to become the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee and has opposed the Trump Administration on most issues.

With Menendez free to run a reelection, and with all the fundraising advantages he had, no prominent Democrat stepped up to challenge him, despite his having record low approval numbers at home, and the public perception that he had gotten away with financial crimes. In the June primary, some eyes were opened when he received just 62 percent of the vote against Lisa McCormick, a virtually unknown liberal activist, who did not have the resources to even seriously campaign. Clearly, many on the left in New Jersey had their fill of Menendez and wanted him gone.

A weakened bench and the presence of the incumbent in the race kept well-known Republicans out of the race. Many in the party though were high on the candidacy of Bob Hugin, a wealthy former pharmaceutical executive and Marine Corps officer,, who could devote personal resources to the race. In the primary, he took three quarters of the vote against Brian Goldberg, a more conservative businessman, who had finished third in a 2014 GOP Senate primary.

Hugin has tried to cultivate the image as a moderate Republican and has gone to some lengths to indicate distance between himself and the Trump Administration. However, he did support the nominee in 2016 and contributed financially to efforts to elect him. This is of course being used against him as he runs against Menendez, as well as his "big business" background.

It cannot be denied though that many of Menendez's past voters want someone else, and Hugin's status as a fairly socially liberal Republican on issues such as abortion and gay rights put him in contention. Polls have showed the incumbent leading, but with Hugin reasonably within striking distance. Those on the right who find Hugin unacceptable might gravitate to the Libertarian nominee, an economics professor who has sought office several times as both a Republican and a Libertarian. His presence in the race is clearly a benefit to Menendez.Some on the left may also choose to cast a protest vote for the Green Party or some other left-leaning independent.

Hugin may very well outspend the incumbent in this race, and that is part of the reason why this could be a true sleeper contest. There also is reportedly considerable political anger against new taxes being imposed under the state's new Democrat Governor and some may choose to take that out this November against the top standard bearer of the party. Nonetheless, it would be a pretty amazing upset in a state that has so many more Democrats and when midterm motivation to oppose Donald Trump is expected to be a major factor. As is the case in many states, Hugin has quite a tightrope to walk between showing distance with Trump in order to win voters in the middle, and not antagonizing the cult-like supporters of the current President on the right.

When all is said and done, Democrats could begrudgingly "come home" in the end and deliver another solid victory to Menendez, but right this, the race seems competitive and worth watching. For the incumbent though, he should probably have much less fear in the judgment of his state's voters this year than he did waiting for that jury verdict last year.

U.S. Senate races predicted thus far: 
14 D (7 Safe, 2 Likely, 2 Leans, 3 Tossup)
  6 R (2 Safe, 1 Likely, 3 Tossup)

Total with predictions thus far:
37 D (23 holdovers, 7 Safe, 2 Likely, 2 Leans, 3 Tossup)
48 R (42 holdovers, 2 Safe, 1 Likely, 3 Tossup)


At 6:16 PM, Blogger Steve Boudreaux said...

Menendez survives, but this is his LAST political campaign for statewide office.


Post a Comment

<< Home