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Andy Kim Wins New Jersey Democratic Senate Primary for Indicted Bob Menendez’s Seat

5 minute read

Trenton, N.J. — Democratic Rep. Andy Kim won New Jersey’s Senate primary Tuesday, putting him in strong position for the general election in the blue-leaning state, though the win comes a day after Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez filed to run as an independent amid his federal corruption trial.

Kim, a three-term congressman who launched his campaign after charges against Menendez were announced last year, rose to the top in the state's dominant political party over a relatively short period. A former Obama national security official, he defeated an incumbent Republican in a 2018 House race and won a court ruling that toppled a unique-to-New Jersey system widely viewed as giving political bosses influence on who wins primaries.

“Our win today is a stunning victory for a people-powered movement that mobilized against corruption and stood up to the machine politics of New Jersey,” Kim said in a statement.

His victory comes after a bruising start to the primary, when a battle between him and New Jersey first lady Tammy Murphy began to take shape. Murphy, a first-time candidate and the spouse of Gov. Phil Murphy, bowed out of the contest, saying she did not want to engage in a negative campaign against a fellow Democrat. On Tuesday, Kim defeated labor leader Patricia Campos-Medina and longtime grassroots organizer Lawrence Hamm, who remained on the ballot.

Menendez, a three-term incumbent senator, declined this year to seek re-election as a Democrat but filed Monday in Trenton to run as an independent. He has said he hopes to be cleared of the charges this summer.

Democrats’ tight hold on control of the Senate means they can hardly afford a competitive race in a state widely viewed as safe for the party. It’s unclear how Menendez’s trial will end up and how his candidacy could affect the race. Republicans are eager to exploit his run as a wedge to divide the Democratic vote.

Kim attacked Menendez and sought to link him to former President Donald Trump.

“New Jersey has a choice: the chaos and corruption of Bob Menendez and Donald Trump, or a politics that works for families struggling to get by,” he said Tuesday.

Kim is known as a mild-mannered legislator who gained recognition for helping clean up the Capitol after the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection.

Murphy joined the contest later last year and quickly earned support from influential county party leaders, a sign that she would be earning their endorsement and with it the so-called county line — or favorable positioning on the primary ballot.

But Kim and other candidates sued to stop that decades-old practice, which is widely viewed as giving New Jersey party bosses sway over primaries, and a federal judge agreed to halt it.

Kim, 41, is a native of southern New Jersey and returned to his home state in 2018 to run for Congress, defeating Republican Tom MacArthur in the 3rd District. A Rhodes Scholar, Kim served in the Obama administration as a national security adviser, working at the departments of State and Defense as well as the National Security Council.

In a four-way Senate contest on the GOP side, southern New Jersey hotel developer Curtis Bashaw has gotten significant county party backing, and Mendham Borough Mayor Christine Serrano Glassner won former President Donald Trump's endorsement.

While New Jersey hasn't elected a Republican to the Senate since 1972, the stakes are high with Democrats holding a slim majority in the body. The GOP is looking at Menendez's independent run as a potential wedge that could boost their chances in the fall.

“Republicans have the best opportunity to win this seat in 52 years,” Republican state Sen. Mike Testa said in a statement.

Menendez spoke briefly Monday outside the New York court where his trial is being held, saying he has not changed politically despite running under his own banner instead of seeking the Democratic nomination.

Kim said Tuesday that Menendez's run is selfish and, “I'm stepping up to restore integrity back into the U.S. Senate.”

Menendez, his wife, and two business associates have pleaded not guilty to federal charges that the senator traded the promise of official acts for gold bars, cash, a luxury vehicle and a mortgage payment. A third business associate has pleaded guilty and agreed to testify in the case for prosecutors.

President Joe Biden and Trump, already their parties' presumptive nominees, both won in New Jersey on Tuesday.

The Democratic Socialists of America backed a protest vote for delegates to the Democratic national convention: Voters had the option of choosing “uncommitted” on delegate ballots, with the slogan “Justice for Palestine, Permanent Ceasefire Now” appearing below.

Jessica Dunlap, a spokesperson for the effort, said the goal was to send a message to Biden over his policies toward the war in Gaza.

similar effort in Michigan this year yielded two delegates, against 115 for Biden.

New Jersey voters were also picking House candidates, with some of the most closely watched races having some tie to Menendez.

The contest in the 3rd District, which Kim represents and is leaving to pursue the Senate seat, was between Democratic Assembly colleagues Herb Conaway and Carol Murphy.

In the 8th District, Democratic Rep. Rob Menendez — the senator's son — was seeking reelection against Hoboken Mayor Ravi Bhalla, who sought during the campaign to link the incumbent to his embattled father.

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