While the national media was losing their minds over the Alabama GOP’s nomination of failed candidate Roy Moore, a Democrat Senate seat in New Jersey has received little attention.

Democrat Senator Bob Menendez is in the middle of his second trial (the first a mistrial), facing corruption charges. We’ve covered the long, sordid history of allegations, indictments, and trials here.

In the midst of what would be a career-ending scandal for anyone else, Menendez is up for re-election. It’s been some fifty years since New Jersey elected a Republican Senator, so should Menendez be worried?

You bet.

Just yesterday, the AP reported a well-funded Democrat contender who filed to recently run against Menendez:

A Democratic political pundit and attorney is challenging New Jersey’s U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez for their party’s nomination.

Michael Starr Hopkins has filed paperwork to run in the June primary against the two-term incumbent, who’s facing a retrial on federal corruption charges after his first trial ended in a hung jury last fall.

Hopkins says it’s important politicians reflect their constituents’ values. The Jersey City resident outlined his reasons for seeking the seat in an op-ed piece discussing issues such as health care, education and taxes.

Hopkins has been a public defender in New York and a political commentator on Fox News and other major networks. He’s a contributing writer for the Huffington Post and The Hill and worked on Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign last year in Colorado.

But Hopkins is outside of the political pecking order. NewJersey.com (also Sunday) explored the political rumor mill’s list of succession:

It goes like this: If Menendez is convicted, or so damaged that he’s likely to lose, they will replace him, just as they replaced Sen. Bob Torricelli when he was under federal investigation during his 2002 re-election campaign.

Who would replace Menendez? Here’s the leading theory among a long list of Democrats I asked over several weeks:

Rep. Donald Norcross (D-1st) would replace Menendez, answering a top priority of his brother George Norcross, who controls the biggest Democratic faction in the state Legislature.

Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-Gloucester) would leave the Statehouse to fill that vacant seat in Congress.

That would open Sweeney’s top spot in the state Senate, which would go to someone loyal to Murphy, probably from northern New Jersey, for regional balance.

“I’ve heard that 100 times,” Sweeney says. “People are saying that. But it’s putting the cart before the horse. Right now, we have a Senate candidate.”

While Democrats experience growing anxiety, some Republicans see an opportunity (still NJ.com):

Republicans have not chosen a candidate yet, but they are giddy about the prospects of Bob Hugin, a self-made millionaire and former Marine who told county chairmen recently that he would start the bidding by spending $20 million of his own money, and hopes to raise $40 million more, according to reliable sources in the GOP.

Imagine the flood of 30-second TV spots that money will buy. Menendez on a private jet to a luxury resort in the Caribbean, no charge. Menendez at a luxury hotel in Paris with a young woman, also gratis. Menendez hiding these gifts, despite the rules. Menendez doing favors for the man who paid for it all, his best pal, Salomon Melgen, a rich old man with a fondness for stray models, and now a convicted felon.

“Right now, a sitting Senator is vulnerable, and that creates an opportunity for us,” says the state GOP chairman, Doug Steinhardt.

I hesitate to make a comparison here with the Alabama/Roy Moore fiasco because no two states are alike, least of all New Jersey and Alabama, buuuttt…we do have a situation here where the candidate could become so toxic (like Moore), the turnout shows up to rebuff the candidate, flipping a seat.

Regardless, the Democrats are nervous, giving Republicans a chance (even if it’s minuscule) to make this a nasty, expensive race.


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