Bob Menendez: our likely senator for the next six years

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.

What do you think about this matter? 

Comments (7)

  1. Al Arroyo

    On our electronic voting machines, all the “down ballot” candidates are to the right of the “top” line candidates, in this case for Senator.

    1. Bill Orr (Post author)

      It’s not clear to me what you are saying.

      The General Election ballot as it appears on my machine (and I think all others) has the political parties in the columns heading toward the right, and the “down ballot” candidates in the rows heading downward. So in the Democratic column the “down ballot candidates” will appear under the US Democratic Senator candidate heading downward in each row.

  2. ken bank

    Though never formally charged with criminal misconduct Bob Torricelli had the decency to step aside in favor of Frank Lautenberg in 2002 and kept the seat safely Democratic. While I would vote for Menendez against any Republican, I have real concerns about his electability. A few things to keep in mind. Assuming the feds drop their charges, he still has to face a Senate ethics investigation which likely will result in a serious reprimand just days before the election. And Republicans are just chomping at the bit to recruit a credible candidate and pour millions into this race reminding voters how sleazy Menendez really is. Dems might stick with Menendez, but independent/undecided voters could shift in favor of Republicans. Kim Guadagno would be a likely choice, although losing by 13 points she still did better than most people expected. With the GOP pouring money into this race, I can see Guadagno come dangerouly close to flipping the seat, especially if she goes full “Willie Horton” while reminding voters how sleazy Menendez is.

    The best scenario would be for Menendez to resign ande let Murphy appoint to Frank Pall,one to fill the seat, just as Corzine appointed Menendez when he became Governor. That would virtually guarantee the seat for Dems. But that won’t happen because Menendez is an egotistical piece of you-know-what who will always put his own interests ahead of the party and the country. Absent that, the best hope is a formidible primary challenge. My first choice would be Wisniewski for lots of reasons I needn’t go into. There may be others, but for now the Wiz is our best hope.

  3. Bill Orr (Post author)

    Like you Pallone or the Wiz would be my preferred candidate. However, I don’t see it happening. The fact that Menendez has the ambition and will, $4 million with more to come, and the support of the major Democratic players who see him as a winner, makes it difficult for other Dems. Guadagno proved to be an ineffective campaigner and could not beat Menendez. If the Republicans are so eager to beat Menendez, it’s not apparent as so far they have no likely winning candidate and time is running out.

    The Senate Ethics Committee does plan to to review Menendez’s actions, but the committee is equally divided between Democrats and Republicans. This effectively means that either party can veto any action taken by the committee. Given the outcome of the trial and that Democratic leadership wants to retain as many Dem votes as it can they are unlikely to vote for any strong measure like expulsion. They might go along with a reprimand for him not reporting “gifts” from Dr. Melgen, but given the trial results they are hard put to claim bribery or corruption. In any event it will take time for them to decide the matter and in the meantime Menendez will plow ahead making it difficult for challengers. Yes the aroma of “sleaze” will not disappear, but that did not stop him in his two past elections where he also faced claims of misdeeds.

  4. James Curran

    The statement “a Republican hasn’t won a U.S. Senate election in New Jersey since 1992.” is a bit off (probably a typo).

    A Republican hasn’t won a U.S. Senate election in New Jersey since 1972. (Cliford Case, serving until 1979) (We’ve also had, in 1982, Nicholas F. Brady filling out Harrison Williams term, and Jeffrey Chiesa filling out Frank Lautenberg’s term, but they weren’t elected)

    1. Bill Orr (Post author)

      Thanks for the correction – noted and corrected above


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