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June 05, 2024

Sen. Menendez files to seek reelection as independent candidate while his corruption trial continues

One Republican quipped that the incumbent's third-party campaign gives the GOP its best chance in 50 years to win a Senate seat in New Jersey.

Courts Corruption
menendez senate independent Kevin R. Wexler/ via USA TODAY NETWORK

U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez, pictured above arriving at the federal courthouse in New York where he is on trial for corruption, this week filed enough nominating petitions to get on the November ballot and run for reelection as a third-party candidate.

Sen. Bob Menendez filed to run for reelection as an independent candidate this week as he continues to stand trial on federal charges of bribery and acting as a foreign agent.

Leaving court Monday afternoon, Menendez said he's going to remind New Jersey voters "what we've done over the last 18 years." New Jersey's primary elections for U.S. Senate took place Tuesday with Rep. Andy Kim winning the Democratic nomination and Curtis Bashaw winning among Republican voters.

"I look forward to proving our innocence," he said. "I intend to remind New Jerseyans who have only heard over the last year … falsehoods about what my record is."

New Jersey's senior senator enters the race as a longshot despite holding the seat for nearly two decades, but that he entered is no surprise. Menendez in March announced he would not seek reelection as a Democrat, arguing the charges against him would preclude a campaign based on issues. At the time, he said he may seek the seat as an independent if the charges against him were not sustained.

The senator's trial entered its fourth week on Monday. Tuesday was the deadline for third-party candidates to file their nominating petitions. Menendez filed 2,465 petitions, according to the New Jersey Secretary of State's office (He is required to submit at least 800).

Menendez's entry into the race was criticized by Kim, currently the congressman representing the 3rd District.

"Americans are fed up with politicians putting their own personal benefit ahead of what's right for the country. Everyone knows Bob Menendez isn't running for the people of New Jersey, he's doing it for himself. It's beyond time for change and I'm stepping up to restore integrity back into the U.S. Senate," Kim said.

State Sen. Mike Testa (R-Cumberland), chair of Republican hotelier Bashaw's Senate campaign, lobbed insults at Menendez and Kim, saying Menendez's decision to enter the race gives the GOP its best chance to win this seat in more than 50 years. Voters in New Jersey last elected a Republican to the Senate in 1972.

"New Jersey voters deserve a change from the Democrat career politicians like Bob Menendez and Andy Kim who've failed to deliver anything for New Jersey families for too long," Testa said.

Menendez faces a narrow path to victory. Though Democratic primary voters stuck with him after his first corruption trial ended with a hung jury in 2017, he won renomination the following year with only 62% of the vote.

Lisa McCormick, a perennial candidate who ran no creditable campaign, took 38% of the vote in what was broadly seen as a rebuke of the incumbent, and polls suggest New Jerseyans' regard for their senior senator has only waned in the interim.

A Monmouth University Poll released in March found New Jerseyans disapproved of Menendez's job performance 74%-16%, a new nadir, and 63% told pollsters he should resign. Three-quarters said he was probably guilty of the charges he faces.

Sophie Nieto-Muñoz contributed to this story.

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