UNITED STATES NEWS

Kim, Bashaw win New Jersey primaries for Senate seat held by embattled Menendez

Jun 3, 2024, 9:11 PM | Updated: Jun 4, 2024, 6:52 pm

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — 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. He will face wealthy hotel operator Curtis Bashaw, who bested a rival backed by former President Trump in the GOP’s primary.

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 the Republican Senate contest, Bashaw defeated Mendham Borough Mayor Christine Serrano Glassner.

Bashaw centered his campaign in part on ending “one-party monopoly” in New Jersey, where state government is led entirely by Democrats, and on sending a conservative to Washington. It’s unclear whether that message will resonate with general election voters, who have not elected a Republican to the Senate in over five decades. Registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by about 1 million in New Jersey.

GOP leaders were optimistic that they had their best hope in years of capturing a Senate seat after incumbent Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez was indicted for a second time on federal corruption charges. But those hopes dimmed somewhat when Menendez said he would not run as a Democrat, and instead Rep. Andy Kim emerged as a as the party’s likely nominee.

After Menendez filed to run as an independent, the GOP is hopeful that Democratic voters might be divided enough to play to the Republicans’ advantage.

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

Serrano Glassner, whose husband, Michael Glassner, was an early political adviser to Trump, was an early entrant into the race and recently was endorsed by the ex-president at a rally in Wildwood.

Bashaw says he backs Trump but has been less outspoken in his support than Serrano Glassner.

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.

A 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.

In the 8th District, U.S. Rep. Rob Menendez, the son of Sen. Menendez, won his Democratic primary over Hoboken Mayor Ravi Bhalla.

Rob Menendez said Bhalla’s heavy focus on his father showed he was afraid to take on the congressman directly.

Menendez, an attorney and former Port Authority of New York and New Jersey commissioner, first won election in northern New Jersey’s 8th District in 2022, succeeding Albio Sires.

He has been a lonely voice of support for his father amid his legal woes.

The 8th District includes parts of Elizabeth, Jersey City and Newark.

And in the 3rd District, Assemblyman Herb Conaway won the Democratic primary to succeed Kim.

Conaway, a longtime legislator, beat colleague Carol Murphy. He’ll be the Democrats’ candidate on the fall ballot as the party fights to hold onto a district seat that until 2018 was controlled by Republicans. The district’s boundaries have changed since then, tilting it more in the Democrats’ favor as well.

Conaway won with the backing of the Burlington County Democratic Party, despite the demise this year of the so-called county line, a unique to New Jersey feature on the ballot that means candidates backed by party leaders are grouped together. It was widely viewed as giving those candidates an edge. A federal judge this year ended the practice after a suit brough by Kim.

Conaway has served in the Legislature since 1998. A medical doctor and a trained lawyer, Conaway is also an Air Force veteran. He chairs the Assembly’s Health Committee.

___

This story has been updated to correct the outcome of the 3rds District race.

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Kim, Bashaw win New Jersey primaries for Senate seat held by embattled Menendez