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When Democratic New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez was charged in September with accepting a big sack of gold (among other inducements) in return for pulling strings for a few allegedly shady constituents and the government of Egypt, it took his colleagues in the Senate and in the Garden State a few days to figure out what to do. Sack-of-gold bribery allegations are seen as a bad look in modern politics, but Menendez had beat corruption charges before, and Dems were wary of alienating him while holding only a one-vote majority in the upper chamber of Congress.

After a few days, though, a consensus emerged that Menendez should resign, and that has come to seem like the right decision: Prosecutors have added charges to the indictment against him, and one of his co-defendants agreed to testify against him in a plea deal. Dems have moved on to an eventful primary contest between Tammy Murphy, wife of state Gov. Phil Murphy, and up-and-coming Rep. Andy Kim. Whoever wins that race in June will be a major favorite to hold the seat for the party in November’s general election.

Or will they??? On Thursday, Sen. Bob pulled a “classic Menendez,” announcing in a video that he hopes to pursue a candidacy as an “independent Democrat” in November’s election in the event that he is able to achieve an “exoneration” at his trial, which is scheduled to begin in May. And as longtime New Jersey politics observer and participant David Wildstein noted on his New Jersey Globe site almost as soon as Menendez was indicted, it’s not unheard-of for an incumbent who got dumped by their party to mount an independent campaign; such a candidacy actually cost Democrats a Senate seat in Connecticut in 1970 by drawing votes from the party’s official nominee.

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On the other hand, Menendez is incentivized to wait as long as possible to formally end his bid for reelection, via rules that allow campaign funds to be used on legal fees related to charges of misconduct in office. He also has a separate legal defense fund that has raised money from a number of players in New Jersey politics; those donations would presumably become harder to solicit if he were to announce that he did not plan to be a viable New Jersey politician anymore. Teasing a potential independent run might just be a ploy to keep the money coming in.

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Should Democrats be worried? Wildstein says yeah, sure. “If Menendez can make a case that he was an innocent man, he would need just 8 percent to be a spoiler,” he says, guessing that the race’s Republican candidate will receive a vote share in the mid-40s. He also thinks the controversial senator will do whatever is in his best interest, regardless of whom it annoys. “I’ve known Menendez since we were young mayors together in 1987,” Wildstein said—his position was in Livingston, home of the Kushner family and Chris Christie, while Menendez served in blue-collar Union City. “I’m convinced that he’ll put up a fight if he can.”

That said, he notes, there’s a lot that could still happen between now and November, including a guilty verdict, which would render the discussion moot. “What he’s fighting for,” Wildstein says, “remains to be seen.”

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QOSHE - With Gold-Bar Bribery Trial Set to Begin Soon, Bob Menendez Has a Bold New Strategy - Ben Mathis-Lilley
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With Gold-Bar Bribery Trial Set to Begin Soon, Bob Menendez Has a Bold New Strategy

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22.03.2024
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When Democratic New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez was charged in September with accepting a big sack of gold (among other inducements) in return for pulling strings for a few allegedly shady constituents and the government of Egypt, it took his colleagues in the Senate and in the Garden State a few days to figure out what to do. Sack-of-gold bribery allegations are seen as a bad look in modern politics, but Menendez had beat corruption charges before, and Dems were wary of alienating him while holding only a one-vote majority in the upper chamber of Congress.

After a few days, though, a consensus emerged that Menendez should resign, and that has come to seem like the right decision: Prosecutors have added charges to the indictment against him, and one of his co-defendants agreed to testify against him in a plea deal. Dems have moved on to an eventful primary contest between Tammy Murphy, wife of state Gov. Phil Murphy, and up-and-coming Rep. Andy........

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