In January, the Justice Department informed United States Senator Bob Menendez that corruption charges against him would no longer be pursued. This came just several months after the New Jersey lawmaker’s case ended in a mistrial. While the New Jersey Democrat likely feels relief over the cessation of these particular legal troubles, a newly announced primary opponent might indicate that his reelection battle is still an uphill climb.
Despite the storm clouds that lurked over Senator Menendez over the last several years, the New Jersey Democratic establishment was quick to embrace him as soon as the corruption charges were dropped. He has plenty of money in his campaign war chest, and he knows that Republicans do not often fair well in statewide elections in the Garden State.
However, a Senate Ethics Committee investigation could still bruise him, and public opinion polls have indicated that his support is not as robust as he would prefer, especially among liberal Democrats.
Additionally, a former business executive named Bob Hugin will seek to become the Republican nominee in the general election. Despite the state being left-leaning, he is considered to be a quality candidate.
All of this makes the entrance of Democratic activist Michael Starr Hopkins into the race a potentially serious problem for Senator Menendez. While Hopkins faces long odds in unseating an incumbent of his own party for the Democratic nomination, he is likely to attract liberal voters and other Democrats who think Menendez is corrupt.
Even if Hopkins fails to steal the nomination from Senator Menendez, he could badly damage him ahead of the general election.
While the political environment is generally looking favorable for Democrats as this election year moves forward, New Jersey is a place that the Republican Party will not be shy about in terms of focusing some of its resources. Even if Menendez continues to stave off accusations of corruption, it might be possible for political opponents on multiple fronts to weaken him with voters from an electoral perspective.