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

Wednesday, June 5, 2024
Kim, Bashaw win NJ primaries for Senate seat held by Menendez
Kim, Bashaw win New Jersey primaries for Senate seat held by embattled Menendez

TRENTON, New Jersey (WPVI) -- Democratic Rep. Andy Kim won his party's nomination for a U.S. Senate seat Tuesday in New Jersey, setting up a general election contest against wealthy hotel operator Curtis Bashaw, who defeated a Trump-backed candidate for the Republican nomination.

Incumbent Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez will also be on the ballot after declaring his intention to run as an independent on Monday in the midst of a federal corruption trial. The turmoil surrounding the embattled senator has created the possibility of a headache for Democrats in a state where they haven't lost an election for Senate since 1972.

Election Results: Live updates on the NJ primary races

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 administration national security official, he defeated an incumbent Republican in a 2018 House race and won a court ruling this year that toppled a unique-to-New Jersey system widely viewed as giving political bosses influence on who wins primaries.

"Leadership is not about the volume of one's voice. It's about the actions that they take," Kim said in a phone interview. "People are hungry for a new generation of leadership to step up. They are hungry for a change, in our broken politics."

Bashaw, a wealthy hotel developer, spent hundreds of thousands of dollars of his own money on the campaign to defeat Mendham Borough Mayor Christine Serrano Glassner, who had former President Donald Trump's endorsement.

Democrats' tenuous 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.

"New Jersey families deserve better than this one-party Democratic monopoly that has represented them for far too long in Washington," Bashaw said.

Kim's victory came 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.

Kim attacked Menendez and sought to link him to 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, 41, gained attention for helping clean up the Capitol after the insurrection on Jan. 6, 2021. A native of southern New Jersey, he 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.

Tammy 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.

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 Menendez was indicted for a second time on federal corruption charges. But that dimmed somewhat when he said he would not run as a Democrat.

His independent run gives the GOP new hope that Democratic voters might be divided enough to play to their 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.

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 for prosecutors.

President Joe Biden and Trump, already their parties' presumptive nominees, both won in New Jersey on Tuesday.

New Jersey voters also picked House candidates, with some of the most closely watched races having some tie to Menendez.

In the 8th District, U.S. Rep. Rob Menendez, his son, won the 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 over colleague Carol Murphy, advancing to face Republican Rajesh Mohan, who also won Tuesday.

The race is for the seat being vacated by Kim as he runs for the Senate.