NJ Sen. Menendez trial casts shadow over his son Rep. Rob Menendez Jr.’s reelection fight

As scandal-plagued Sen. Robert Menendez went on trial Monday in Manhattan, his son is battling for his own political survival across the Hudson River in New Jersey.

After winning the seat in 2022, first-term Rep. Rob Menendez Jr. faces a powerful Democratic primary challenge from Hoboken Mayor Ravi Bhalla in the 8th District once held by his powerful father.

The younger Menendez portrays himself as a hard-working progressive with no ties to his father’s alleged corruption.

Bhalla counters that Rep. Rob Menendez Jr. owes his position to his famous family name and the powerful Democratic machine that has a particularly strong grip on the north Jersey district, which includes Jersey City and most of Hudson County.

Polls show a potentially tight race in the June 4 election. A survey commissioned by Bhalla shows him just 3% behind Menendez, although the incumbent’s own poll showed him with a much wider lead.

Bhalla boasts overwhelmingly positive approval numbers while voters are split over Menendez, with a potentially large number of people associating him with his scandal-tarred father.

“The Menendez name remains a significant liability,” pollster Anna Greenberg said in a memo obtained by the New Jersey Globe.

Jury selection began Monday in the trial of Sen. Robert Menendez Sr. on charges he accepted bribes, including cash and gold bars, in exchange for using his position to help the governments of Egypt and Qatar.

The elder Menendez has pulled out of the state’s Democratic Senate primary. Rep. Andy Kim is expected to win that race by a lopsided margin after First Lady Tammy Murphy pulled the plug on her campaign.

It also reflects a changing face of New Jersey Democratic politics and the waning power of the once omnipotent party machine, which once boasted an iron grip on strongholds of Hudson County, Newark and Camden in south Jersey.

The race is the first New Jersey primary in decades to be carried out without the so-called county line ballot system, which gave candidates backed by Democratic organization a huge advantage. A federal judge recently ruled the county line is unconstitutional and ordered its abolition.

The single biggest chunk of votes in the district are in Jersey City, which is close to Hoboken in demographics and would be expected to be a stronghold for Bhalla.

But Menendez will be hoping to run up the score in heavily-Latino Union City and North Bergen, along with slivers of machine-friendly Newark and Elizabeth where Bhalla is not well known.

NJ-08 is a deep blue district and the winner of the Democratic primary will be an overwhelming favorite to win over token Republican opposition in the November election.