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Menendez files independent bid for re-election in New Jersey Senate race

Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey, a longtime Democrat who is in his fourth week of a federal corruption trial, filed papers Monday to seek re-election as an independent in November.

The specter of Mr. Menendez, 70, attempting to mount a comeback campaign raises the possibility of a splintered Democratic vote in the November election, creating a broader path for the Republican nominee at a time when Democrats have struggling to maintain their narrow majority in the Senate. .

Mr. Menendez was abandoned by most of the state’s top Democrats, who quickly called on him to resign after he was indicted on corruption charges last year. He adamantly refused to step down, but chose not to run in Tuesday’s Democratic primary.

However, he never closed the door on the possibility of running as an independent – ​​which allowed him to continue collecting and spending his campaign contributions on the lawyers hired to defend him and his wife, Nadine Menendez, who is also accused of corruption conspiracy.

His trial is expected to last at least another month; he has until mid-August to withdraw from the November 5 elections.

The Democratic candidate for Mr. Menendez’s seat, Representative Andy Kim, was quick to criticize the embattled senator’s entry into the race, calling it selfish.

“Everyone knows Bob Menendez is not showing up for New Jersey families,” Mr. Kim wrote on social media. “He runs for himself. People are tired of seeing politicians put their personal interests ahead of what is good for the country.”

Spokespeople for Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and Majority Leader, and the Democratic Senate campaign arm in Washington both declined to comment.

Several Republicans are competing for the Senate nomination in Tuesday’s primaries. Registered Democrats outnumber Republicans in New Jersey by more than 900,000 voters, and it’s been half a century since the liberal-leaning state elected a Republican to the U.S. Senate.

Still, Mike Berg, a spokesman for the Republicans’ national campaign, said the party was “watching New Jersey closely.”

The move leaves Mr. Menendez’s son, Representative Rob Menendez, in a difficult position on the eve of his Democratic primary against Ravi Bhalla, the mayor of Hoboken, New Jersey.

Rep. Menendez, 38, has worked to distance himself from his father’s legal troubles and has not been accused of wrongdoing. An aide to the congressman had no immediate comment on the senator’s plans or how they might affect his son’s ability to win re-election to a second term in the House. But continued public attention to the senator’s legal problems has made his son’s re-election battle much more difficult.

It’s unclear how the senator would manage a campaign. He has no paid campaign staff and a rapidly dwindling campaign war chest. His chief of staff, Jason Tuber, is leaving as a lobbyist for a New Jersey-based snack maker, and two of his top Senate communications staffers resigned months ago. He has spent at least $3 million of his campaign contribution on lawyers working to defend him against accusations that he interfered in criminal investigations in New Jersey, directed aid to Egypt and obstructed justice by trying to pass off bribes as loans.

Polls have shown that about 75 percent of New Jersey residents are already convinced he is guilty of the charges, and an equal percentage said they disapprove of his performance in the Senate, increasing his chances of winning as ‘independent.

Several men delivered the nominating petitions to the State Department in Trenton, New Jersey, Monday afternoon on behalf of Senator Menendez, who was in a courtroom all day in Manhattan.

The filing showed he had collected 2,465 signatures, three times the required minimum. Opponents have until June 10 to challenge their validity.

After the trial on Monday, Senator Menendez confirmed that he had personally collected signatures. He also reiterated that he expected to be exonerated and listed several ways he had helped New Jerseyans in times of real need during his time in Congress.

He said he thought the trial was going well.

“We are discrediting government witnesses,” he added, responding in Spanish to a question posed by a Spanish-speaking journalist. “We make them our witnesses and we show our innocence.”

People familiar with the re-election case said many of the signatures appeared to come from residents of northern Hudson County, where the senator grew up and where he got his start as a politician, serving as mayor of Union City.

Indeed, on Friday evening he was in Union City, eating at one of his favorite Cuban restaurants, La Gran Via.

“He’s a long-time friend to this place,” said restaurant owner Alfredo Guardado.

Coincidentally, current Union City Mayor Brian Stack — one of Rep. Menendez’s biggest campaign promoters — was eating there at the same time, Mr. Guardado said.

The two men did not have dinner together.

Nicolas Fandos, Benjamin Weiser, Erin Nolan And Luis Ferré-Sadurni reports contributed.

News Source : www.nytimes.com
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