Campaign Mailbag: Will Scandal-Tarred Menendez Hurt Senate Dems’ Chances?

Hey there, readers! Thanks for all the great questions. This week, I’m going to bite off a trio of them that reader Dave Ricksicker sent in on some of the more overlooked Senate races: New Jersey, Tennessee, Texas and Mississippi. I’ll take them in the order he sent them. We’ll publish the first today, and tackle the rest in the coming days. This “Campaign Mailbag” series is usually only available to Prime members, but we’re making this one free for everyone. If you want more, subscribe! And thanks again to all those who already do.

Here’s Dave’s first question:

1) How worried should we be about Menendez in NJ?

Sen. Bob Menendez’s (D-NJ) surprisingly weak showing against a no-name candidate in his June 5 Senate primary, in which he barely topped 60 percent of the vote, alarmed some Democrats.

I wrote last August about how worried his party was that Menendez’s corruption trial could put his seat at risk. Since then, he got off on a mistrial because of a Supreme Court ruling that made it virtually impossible to prosecute pay-to-play allegations, while Jersey’s powerful Democratic machine made sure he didn’t face real primary opposition. But it’s clear from his primary results that a good chunk of the state’s Democratic base isn’t happy with him after he was “severely admonished” by the Senate Ethics Committee. And his GOP opponent, pharmaceutical company executive Bob Hugin, can self-fund — he’s already given his own campaign $7.5 million.

That said, we’re talking about Democratic-leaning New Jersey in a year that’s shaping up to be a very good one for Democrats, especially in suburban areas. And while there’s been scant polling of the race, the two reputable public surveys that have been conducted this year found Menendez with 17- and 21-point leads.

So, no, it doesn’t look like Menendez is likely to lose.

The bigger concerns for Democrats are whether they’ll be forced to spend more than usual on his behalf in an expensive state, and what the down-ticket effect of his race might be. Menendez has $5.6 million in the bank, not an overwhelming amount in a state whose two major media markets are the uber-expensive New York City and Philadelphia, but enough to keep him from being a complete drag on the party should the race get expensive. That’d be a repeat of his 2006 race, when he was beset by scandal in a good Democratic year and won by a comfortable nine points — but only after national Democrats were forced to spend to defend him.

If Menendez proves to be a bit of a drag on the rest of the Democratic ticket, that could be a huge problem for some key House races. Democrats are defending one vulnerable incumbent in the state, banking on flipping two open seats in their quest to win House control, and hopeful they can turn two more blue.

That’s it for now, readers! For you Prime members, here are the other questions from Dave I’ll be answering soon:

2) Who has a better shot, Bredesen in Tenn. or Beto in TX? 

3) Is there any chance [of a Democratic victory] in Mississippi Special?



Have a question about the 2018 midterms you’d like our senior political correspondent Cameron Joseph to answer? Send it our way through email, or post it in the Hive.

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