We re-elect Menendez: Our 2018 saw a stunning rejection of Senator Bob Menendez in the New Jersey primary, where nearly 40% of Democrats voted for Lisa McCormick, a frequent flier challenger most of them never heard of and many in the progressive community (she is a progressive) don’t support. Explanations for that have little to do with McCormick herself, who essentially ran without resources or organized campaign. It may speak a little to the ‘Year of the Woman’ thinking on the Dem side. But most likely it was primarily a rejection of Senator Menendez himself from the party he has operated in, and succeeded in, since he was a young man on the move in Union. Menendez had just survived a year-plus long federal corruption trial with a hung jury, the conviction of one of his best friends and co-defendant, and a sharp rebuke from the Senate Ethics Committee that left a bitter taste in the mouths of many Jersey Dems, a rejection of Democratic politics as usual by Democratic voters themselves. The story was much, much different in the general election, with GOP nominee ex-Celgene exec Bob Hugin spending goo-gobs of his own cash (that’s jacking up prices on cancer patients cash – and worse). The shocking primary results – no surprise to the progressive community, which has been questioning how the Democratic Party operates for years – forced national Dems and their donors to help fuel Menendez’ fight against Hugin’s nearly unlimited willingness to spend, in a blue-state race that should never have been at risk, and might not have been had the party swapped out an incumbent under an ethics cloud for one of the House members waiting in the wings. Tomorrow’s party celebrates that tarnished win, which the NJDSC has to publicly deny was ever tarnished at all.
4 House Newbies: Tomorrow’s party, at which Gov. Murphy will preside, also celebrates New Jersey’s contribution – huge contribution with 4 seats, and now an 11-1 split between Ds & Rs in the House delegation – to the 2018 blue wave. There’s something for everyone; among winners Andy Kim, Mikie Sherrill, Tom Malinowski, Jeff Van Drew, I’d say our newbies skew centrist & DCCC-tied, with only one (Kim) joining the Congressional Progressive Caucus, and two (Sherrill & Van Drew) in the right-leaning ‘Problem Solvers Caucus). Is this an improvement over the 4 Republicans they replaced, who each contributed House fuel to Donald Trump? Yes, it sure as hell is. Is it a good enough change? Time will tell.
Home Party Trouble: Tomorrow’s party in D.C. comes as the Party at home is in disarray. Phil Murphy and his big smile will greet every visitor with real gusto, but there’s real trouble at home; a pointless struggle between our Governor and Senate President Steve Sweeney, who used his power 2013-2017 to be Chris Christie’s top Democratic enabler and wanted to be the next governor himself, but got skunked by Murphy. The early-starting NJDSC chair battle is a proxy war for power in a divided home party and Murphy IMO did himself no favors leaving the country for a fab vacay with the fam with all this roiling. It fell to progressive activists to shut down the naked power grab redistricting proposal from the Sweeney camp, which shows a distinct rise in the power of a newly-united activist force that both factions in the home party should take very seriously. This is the other ‘wave’ of the midterms, and my read of this activist base, of which I’m part, is that it is far more interested in clean politics, a clean Democratic party, and forward-moving policy, than personalities, turf battles or Democratic Party shenanigans.
And that is something to celebrate, too.