Democrats in Hudson County, which makes up the bulk of New Jersey's 8th Congressional District, are embracing Rep. Rob Menendez's bid for a second term despite jettisoning his father, Sen. Bob Menendez, after he was indicted on federal corruption charges earlier this year. However, the younger Menendez may have to follow suit in kicking his dad to the curb if he's to keep up his end of the bargain.
On Friday, the Hudson County Democratic Party awarded its coveted "organization line" to Menendez, assuring him of favorable placement on the primary ballot, and a passel of prominent local officials also rallied behind the first-term congressman. The move came despite the fact that Hudson Democrats gave their line to former financier Tammy Murphy's Senate campaign just last month, in effect telling Bob Menendez to get lost—a decision that raised questions as to whether they'd stick with the senator's son.
It appears that they will, but as the New Jersey Globe's David Wildstein previously explained, the Hudson Democratic Party expects all of its candidates to endorse one another: a "loyalty test" that "has long been a key requirement" in the county. Rob Menendez, alone among members of New Jersey's House delegation, has stood by his father, but Wildstein now reports that he has "privately committed to endorsing Murphy," according to unnamed sources. He has not yet, however, done so publicly.
And even if he does, that may not be enough to save him. Wildstein says a new poll from Change Research finds that just 17% of Democratic primary voters have a favorable view of Menendez versus 51% who see him negatively, while 62% say there is "no chance" they'd vote for him. It's not clear who paid for the survey, but based on its findings, it could not have come from an ally of Menendez: In a hypothetical matchup against three opponents, the congressman earns just 16% of the vote.
One of those potential challengers, Hoboken Mayor Ravi Bhalla, sits just behind the incumbent with 13%. Bhalla has already taken concrete steps toward a bid and reportedly has raised more than $500,000 for a campaign so far. Jersey City Councilman James Solomon, meanwhile, is at 9% and Hudson County Prosecutor Esther Suarez takes just 3%; while they haven't publicly expressed interest, the Jersey City Times' Aaron Morrill mentions them as possible contenders in a new piece.
And not all of Hudson County's top Democrats are lining up behind Menendez. Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop, whose city is the largest in the county, offered harsh words in dissent on Monday. "It's not a secret that Rob got to Congress only because of his dad's influence," he said in a statement, "so it's fair to move on from Rob now because of that same influence."
Fulop added that "the Senator still threatens people privately and publicly, and the congressman has not separated himself from any of it." (After Hudson ditched the elder Menendez, the senator warned, "I know where all the skeletons in closets are.") Concluded Fulop, "I understand it's his dad, but it's unreasonable to be linked together because of family only when it helps." Rob Menendez fired back by accusing Fulop of being an absentee mayor and mismanaging the city's budget.
New Jersey's primary is June 4, with the candidate filing deadline likely in early April. Bob Menendez, whose trial has been set for May 6, has yet to say whether he'll seek another term despite abysmal polls that have him in the single digits, but if he does insist on running, he could further drag down his son due to their similar names. For now, Murphy is in a one-on-one race with Rep. Andy Kim, while Rob Menendez's only rival is businessman Kyle Jasey.