Big News in New Jersey

US Representative-elect Andy Kim (D-NJ) reacts after drawing a number during an office lottery for new members of Congress on Capitol Hill November 30, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski / AFP) ... US Representative-elect Andy Kim (D-NJ) reacts after drawing a number during an office lottery for new members of Congress on Capitol Hill November 30, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski / AFP) (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images) MORE LESS
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To my great surprise and seemingly to the surprise of almost everyone else, New Jersey First Lady Tammy Murphy announced today that she is ending her campaign for Senate. That almost certainly clears the path for Rep. Andy Kim to become the Democratic nominee for the seat currently held by Sen. Bob Menendez. New Jersey isn’t quite in California sure-thing territory. But this makes it very likely that Kim will be elected to the Senate in November.

What makes this a bigger deal than just another primary in a fairly safe Democratic state is that it managed to bring to the fore an almost comical feature of New Jersey politics — something called “the line,” which allows county party chairs the ability to exercise an absurd power over the design of ballots to assist their chosen candidates. Machines have long half-lives. But it seems questionable whether the line will survive this race, whether it goes down in the current court fight or just can’t withstand the new scrutiny the race has brought to it. If it is done that will deal a pretty debilitating blow to the party machines in New Jersey.

The other thing to note here is Andy Kim. The New Jersey party machines have been around forever and the line is a staple of the politics of the state. This isn’t some out of the way rural state with no big media market. The state is cut roughly in half between the New York City and Philadelphia media markets. It gets a lot of attention. And yet, it’s machine politics is an only lightly modernized version of a Boss Hogg type system.

So how did this happen? It’s not like it hadn’t occurred to anyone else before to challenge the machine.

I’m no expert on New Jersey politics. But the real factor here is that Kim was willing to risk everything at just the right moment. My recollection is that he announced his candidacy the day after the original Menendez indictment. (I guess we have to be clear that Menendez was indicted before and beat the rap. I mean, the original indictment this time, before the various superseding indictments.) The key I think is that Kim got in fast before the machine really realized that Menendez was toast. And because they didn’t yet realize that Menendez was done, they hadn’t had a chance yet to get behind and coalesce around a new person. That ended up being Murphy, the wife of the current governor.

This gave Kim a critical window of opportunity that he used almost perfectly.

Kim had enough of a national brand, in part based on the iconic photos of him literally sweeping up the glass and debris of January 6th, that he was able to build momentum and raise money. He also gained mightily from his willingness to say, more or less on day one, fuck this. This crook should not be senator. I’m going to challenge him.

Every other Democrat was still caught off guard and uncertain how to react, not withstanding the fact that Menendez has long been fairly notorious. Rightly or wrongly I think many people at least figured he’d keep his nose clean after he beat his previous high profile federal charges. Oh well.

Too soon to say it’s 100% over. Kim hasn’t been elected senator yet. But it certainly seems like one of those the fates favor the bold kind of moments.

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