Kim vs. Menendez

Senate Democrats are continuing to come forward calling on Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) to resign his seat due to the new set of indictments he is facing, just as New Jersey US Rep. Andy Kim (D-Moorestown) is launching a campaign to challenge him in next year’s Democratic primary.

Currently, at least ten Democratic Senators have called upon Sen. Menendez to resign before he is found guilty of any crime. He and his wife, Nadine Menendez, and three associates are under indictment on bribery related charges over alleged actions the Senator took in relation to Egyptian foreign aid legislation. Consistent with Senate rules governing indicted members, Mr. Menendez has temporarily stepped down from his post as Foreign Relations Committee chairman.

Among those calling upon him to resign are three of the most vulnerable in-cycle Democrats: Sens. Sherrod Brown (OH), Jon Tester (MT), and Jacky Rosen (NV). Neighboring Pennsylvania Sen. John Fetterman was the first to issue such a call. New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) and several of the state’s delegation members, namely David Norcross (D-Camden City), Josh Gottheimer (D-Wycoff), Frank Pallone (D-Long Branch), Bill Pascrell (D-Paterson), and Mikie Sherrill (D-Montclair), have also urged their Senator to resign.

New Jersey’s junior Senator, Cory Booker (D), yesterday joined the resign chorus with a long statement that mostly praised Sen. Menendez but ended with a suggestion that he step aside for the benefit of the people they jointly represent.

Obviously, no one has gone as far as Rep. Kim, originally elected in 2018, who will attempt to unseat Sen. Menendez should he seek renomination. Recalling comments he made during his explanatory news conference earlier in the week, the Senator appears to have no plans to voluntarily leave his position and at this point is expected to run next year.

Other names are beginning to surface as additional potential Democratic challengers. Those include New Jersey’s First Lady Tammy Murphy, and US Reps. Norcross, Gottheimer and Pallone. Only Rep. Kim, however, has made a firm announcement. 

Turning to electoral prospects, Rep. Kim has already made some adroit moves. Immediately saying he would challenge Sen. Menendez may freeze some of the other potential opponents who are apparently considering running. He can now make the point that others jumping into the race would create a crowded field that actually might help Menendez win because the anti-incumbent vote would be split among several opponents.

If Kim can keep this a one-on-one battle, his chances of winning a June 4, 2024, Democratic primary against a beleaguered incumbent would actually appear quite good. Sen. Menendez would likely have trouble raising further funds in what is one of the most expensive states to run. Here, candidates must advertise in the New York City and Philadelphia media markets, two of the most expensive in the country, and doing so forces them to educate millions of people in New York, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania who obviously can’t vote in New Jersey elections.

According to the latest campaign finance disclosure report, covering the period ending June 30, 2023, Sen. Menendez had $7.8 million in the bank. We will see how much that figure has grown once the September 30th report is filed. 

For his part, Rep. Kim reported $882,000 cash-on-hand at the end of June. Conversely, we can expect him to raise significant dollars for a Menendez challenge, particularly if he becomes the Senator’s lone Democratic challenger. The leftward VoteVets organization, for example, has already issued an endorsement of Mr. Kim.

Turning to what will be Rep. Kim’s open 3rd CD, redistricting has made this once Republican seat into a relatively safe Democratic domain. The FiveThirtyEight data organization rates NJ-3 as D+9. Dave’s Redistricting App calculates a 53.4D – 44.9R partisan lean. The Daily Kos Elections site ranks this seat as the 47th safest seat in the 212-member House Democratic Conference.

Originally, located in southern New Jersey that stretched from Pennsylvania to the Atlantic Ocean, the post-redistricting 3rd maintains its base in the Mount Laurel/Mount Holly area, but now moves westward to the Pennsylvania border and then north to encompass part of the capital city of Trenton and its suburbs before moving northeast all the way to Middletown Township.

Therefore, expect Republicans to mount a campaign to contest this open seat, but the eventual Democratic nominee will have the inside track toward winning the November election. Mr. Kim leaving his position means that 17 US House seats are open for the next election (12D; 5R). This number will reduce to 15 once the two special elections (RI-1; UT-2) are decided on November 7th. Of the 15 members leaving their seats for the 2024 regular election, 11 (9D; 2R) are running for the Senate.

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