New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez says he won’t run in Democratic primary

In this image taken from video provided by Menendez for Senate, U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., announces that he will not run in the state's Democratic primary, Thursday, March 21 2024. Menendez, who faces federal corruption charges, left open the possibility that he would reenter the race as an independent later this year if he is exonerated at a trial. (Menendez for Senate via AP)

In this image taken from video provided by Menendez for Senate, U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., announces that he will not run in the state’s Democratic primary, Thursday, March 21 2024. Menendez, who faces federal corruption charges, left open the possibility that he would reenter the race as an independent later this year if he is exonerated at a trial. (Menendez for Senate via AP)

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey said Thursday he won’t run in the Democratic primary as he faces federal corruption charges, but he left open the possibility that he would reenter the race as an independent later this year if he is exonerated at a trial.

Menendez’s announcement comes four days before a state deadline to file to run in the June 4 Democratic primary that’s already being contested by Rep. Andy Kim and New Jersey first lady Tammy Murphy. The almost 10-minute video shows Menendez speaking about his decades in Congress, pushing for aid for his state, including for Superstorm Sandy recovery and COVID-19 relief.

“The present accusations I am facing of which I am innocent and will prove so will not allow me to have that type of dialogue and debate with political opponents,” he said in a video posted on social media. “You deserve to hear from those who wish to represent you about what they would do for you and your families in the future. Therefore I will not file for the Democratic party this June.”

Menendez said he’s hopeful that he will be exonerated at trial and could run as an “independent Democrat” in the general election.

The decision comes as Menendez fights federal bribery charges, along with his wife, Nadine, and three business associates.

Menendez and his spouse are charged with taking bribes of gold bars, cash and a Mercedes-Benz in return for the senator’s help with projects pursued by three New Jersey businessmen. In return for the haul, Menendez helped one of the men get a lucrative meat-certification deal with Egypt, taking actions favorable to the Egyptian government, according to prosecutors. An additional indictment said Menendez helped another associate get a deal with a Qatari investment fund.

The senator, his wife and two of the three business associates have pleaded not guilty. One of the business associates has pleaded guilty and agreed to testify in the case.

Menendez’s retreat from the Democratic primary sets the stage for Murphy and Kim to vie to be the party’s standard bearer in a deep blue state that hasn’t elected a Republican to the Senate since 1972.

Murphy is a first-time candidate who’s running with the backing of influential party insiders. Kim is a three-term congressman who’s centered his campaign in part on upending the state’s unique ballot design, widely viewed as favoring candidates preferred by county party insiders.

“I will win in November even if I have to beat Menendez and a Republican simultaneously,” Kim said in a post on X, formerly Twitter.

Murphy said in a post on X that the state needs a senator focused on issues confronting families in New Jersey.

“Senator Menendez continues to place himself ahead of what’s best for New Jerseyans and the Democratic Party as a whole. He shouldn’t have the privilege of serving in the Senate in any capacity,” she said.

The stakes are high, with Democrats competing to hold on to their narrow control of the Senate.

Republicans have their own primary unfolding, featuring southern New Jersey businessman Curtis Bashaw, Mendham Borough Mayor Christine Serrano Glassner and former TV news reporter Alex Zdan.

Menendez, who’s serving a third full term in the Senate, has been elected to office at every level in the state. His stature among Democrats withstood an earlier federal corruption trial that ended in a hung jury and saw him reelected in 2018 with the full-throated endorsement of his party.

This time, though, Democrats called for his resignation soon after the Justice Department’s case was unsealed. The day after the first indictment in September, Kim announced his campaign.

Menendez, who has espoused a defiant tone since the indictment was announced, mingled that with conciliation in his more than nine-minute video.

“I know many of you are hurt and disappointed in me with the accusations I’m facing,” he said. “Believe me, I am disappointed at the false accusations as well. All I can ask of you is to withhold judgement until justice takes place.”

The son of Cuban immigrants and an attorney by training, Menendez was a Union City, New Jersey, school board member at age 20 and went on to become the mayor of the city, where he still has deep roots.

His own biography touts the fact that he wanted to fight corruption early in his political career, testifying against Union City officials and building a reputation as tough. From there, he was elected to the state Assembly, then the state Senate before heading to the U.S. House.

Menendez was appointed to be a U.S. senator in 2006 when the seat opened up after Jon Corzine, the incumbent at the time, became governor.

He was elected outright in 2006 and again in 2012 and 2018. He served as chair of the influential Senate Foreign Relations Committee beginning in 2013, but lost that post after the earlier indictment. He regained the position after federal prosecutors did not renew charges in that case, which ended in a mistrial.

He again was forced to give up that position after he was indicted in 2023.

AP Politics

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