If you view an election as a horse race, US Senator Robert Menendez is ready at the gate and chomplng to go with $4 million Cash in Hand, endorsements of pretty much every major Democratic political player in the state, including Phil Murphy, no announced Democratic challenger, and five announced Republican candidates none of whom have more than $4,400 in Cash on Hand. He has the built-in advantage of 934,000 more registered D’s than R’s, and a Republican hasn’t won a U.S. Senate election in New Jersey since 1972
1992. Above is a photo of Menendez at a rally with New Jerseyans against a last-ditch Trumpcare proposal. So what could go wrong?
The fly in the ointment can be viewed through polling. In the most recent poll from Quinnipiac of September, prior to the mistrial verdict, New Jersey voters said 50% – 20% with 30% undecided, that he does not deserve reelection next year, and they gave him a negative 31 – 49 percent job approval rating. Among Democrats in the poll only 29% said he deserves to be elected whereas 41% said he does not and 30% were undecided. However, 45% of Democrats in the poll approved of his job performance, 35% did not, and 20% were undecided. His job performance will be a major 2018 consideration.
So let’s look at his positive voting record :
- Weakening consumer protections (H J Res 111): (NO)
- 2018 Budget resolution laying the groundwork for “Tax Reform” and substantially reducing Medicare and Medicaid expenses (H Con Res 71): NO
- Various negative amendments on Repeal & Replace ACA: NO.
- Nomination of Neil Gorsuch to US Supreme Court (PN 55): NO
- An anti-pro choice provision (H J Res 43): NO
- Reducing privacy of customers on broadband (H J Res 34): NO
- Nomination of Scott Pruitt as Administrator of EPA (PN 44): NO
- Nomination of Steve Mnuchin as Secretary of the Treasury (PN 26): NO
- Nomination of Tom Price as Secretary Heath/Human Services (PN 33): NO
- Nomination of Jeff Sessions as Attorney General (PN 30): NO
- Increasing the maximum prison term for an undocumented immigrant who reenters the United States (S 2193): NO
- A heavy-handed approach to dealing with Puerto Rico’s financial problems (S 2328): NO
- Prohibiting the transfer of firearms to suspected terrorists (S amdt 4720) : YES.
In summary, although he missed votes during his trial, it is difficult to find a vote of his going as far back to June 2016 on which most Democrats would disapprove. Indeed at this moment both Roll Call and Inside Elections consider Menendez “safe” and both Sabato Crystal Ball and Cook Political Report consider the race “Likely Democratic.” On the left is a press conference toward the end of his trial. It seems unlikely that the prosecution will call for a retrial.
Sen. Menendez shortly before his two prior elections faced accusations of misdoing which later weren’t really substantiated. Nonetheless, in 2012 he beat Republican State Senator Joe Kyrillos by 19 points, and in 2006 he won by 9 points against State Senator Thomas Kean Jr. Following each election he enjoyed better job approval ratings. In April 2015 when he was indicted on federal 14-count corruption charges, he said “I will be vindicated.” Well he wasn’t exactly vindicated, but neither was he found guilty.
In 2018 voters will have to decide the relative merits of re-electing him. Some Democrats might vote for an Independent candidate but are unlikely to go Republican, particularly with such a weak field. As time passes, the memory of constituents and the fact that he was not found guilty will be of some help. His millions of dollars to be spent on rehabilitating his image will aid him. Importantly both the positions he has taken on issues and his voting record will be viewed by Democrats as positive. In a low-voting non-presidential year with many Democrats energized to vote against Republican representatives in five congressional districts he has an advantage. Barring some spectacular Democratic challenger suddenly appearing in the Primary with sufficient funding, he appears assured to be the victor.
The fact that he will hold the top line on the Democratic ballot could have some negative effect on down-ballot candidates. However, elections for representatives and local politicians tend to be based on separate considerations. Dems who want to overthrow their representative or mayor or a freeholder will not be dissuaded.
Individual voters in this election have a flawed Democratic candidate and a more difficult moral issue to confront. The reality under our election system is we never have a perfect candidate, and we must choose who we believe is better. On that basis, if no other, Menendez holds the upper hand and is likely to be our senator for another six years.