Senator Menendez is filing for re-election as his corruption trial enters its fourth week

by Nikita Biryukov, New Jersey Monitor

Sen. Bob Menendez filed for reelection Monday as an independent candidate as he continues to be tried on federal charges of bribery and acting as a foreign agent.

As he left court Monday afternoon, Menendez said he would remind New Jersey voters “what we’ve done for the last 18 years.”

“I look forward to proving our innocence,” he said. “I intend to remind New Jerseyans, who have heard nothing but untruths over the past year, of my record.”

New Jersey’s senior senator is entering the race despite having held the seat for nearly two decades, but his entry comes as no surprise.

Menendez announced in March that he would not seek re-election as a Democrat, arguing that the charges against him would preclude an issue-based campaign. At the time, he said he might seek the seat as an independent if the charges against him were not upheld.

The trial against the senator entered its fourth week on Monday. Tuesday is the deadline for third-party candidates to submit their nomination requests. According to the New Jersey Secretary of State, Menendez has filed 2,465 petitions (he must file at least 800).

Menendez’s entry into the race was criticized by one of the leading candidates to replace him, Rep. Andy Kim (D-03).

“Americans are fed up with politicians putting their own personal benefit above what is good for the country. Everyone knows that Bob Menendez is not running for the people of New Jersey, but for himself. It is no longer time for change and I am doing my best to restore integrity to the United States Senate,” Kim said.

Sen. Mike Testa (R-Cumberland), chairman of Republican hotelier Curtis Bashaw’s Senate campaign, hurled insults at Menendez and Kim and said Menendez’s decision to enter the race gives the Republican party its best chance to win this seat in more than 50 years. New Jersey voters last elected a Republican to the Senate in 1972.

“New Jersey voters deserve a change from career Democratic politicians like Bob Menendez and Andy Kim, who for too long have done nothing for New Jersey families,” Testa said.

Menendez faces a narrow path to victory. Although the Democratic primary remained loyal to him after his first corruption trial in 2017 ended with a hung jury, he was renominated the following year with just 62% of the vote.

Lisa McCormick won 38% of the vote, which was widely seen as a rebuke of the incumbent president, and polls show New Jerseyans’ approval of their senior senator has only declined in the interim.

A Monmouth University poll released in March found New Jerseyans disapproving of Menendez’s performance by 74%-16%, a new low, and 63% told pollsters he should resign. Three-quarters say he is probably guilty of the charges against him.

Sophie Nieto-Muñoz contributed to this story.

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