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Indicted Sen. Bob Menendez declines reelection as Democrat, may run as independent

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Indicted Sen. Bob Menendez will not run for reelection as a Democrat this year but is keeping the door open to an independent run, he said Thursday.

New Jersey’s senior senator, who is under indictment for a second time in a decade, said he is hopeful that “my exoneration will take place this summer,” allowing him to run in November’s general election.

“Unfortunately, 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 that have already made it the cornerstone of their campaign,” Menendez said in a video. “New Jerseyans deserve better than that.”

Menendez’s announcement comes days before New Jersey’s Democratic filing deadline on March 25. Had Menendez run for reelection as a Democrat, he would be jumping into an already contentious primary between Rep. Andy Kim and first lady Tammy Murphy — not to mention having single-digit support, according to public polls.

Menendez is scheduled to go on trial in early May. The independent filing deadline is June 4, and the senator is keeping that option on the table to see if his legal troubles clear up.

It’s happened before. Menendez faced corruption charges last time he was up for reelection, but a mistrial in 2017 allowed him to maintain support from the state’s party establishment in 2018.

This time he’s hoping to do the same in a tighter timeframe and an environment in which virtually every statewide Democrat of influence has abandoned him.

A Menendez independent run could potentially raise problems for Democrats. New Jersey hasn’t elected a Republican to the Senate in 50 years, but the Democratic primary has shown deep divisions between the party’s establishment and its progressive wing. And there are more independent voters than registered Republicans, so the caustic primary fight between Kim and Murphy could ripple into the general election with the presidency and the closely divided Senate on the line.

“I will win in November even if I have to beat Menendez and a Republican simultaneously,” Kim said on X, formerly Twitter. “The balance of the Senate is on the line and we need the strongest candidate possible to keep this seat blue and the Senate in Democratic control.”

Republicans see an opportunity.

Christine Serrano Glassner, the mayor of Mendham Borough with a connection to Trump, has taken to labeling Menendez, in Trumpian fashion, “Gold Bar Bob” because of the allegations against him. She said she welcomes him staying in the race.

“As I’ve said from the beginning, Menendez should have to face the voters and the people of New Jersey should have the opportunity to repudiate him — and the corruption and cronyism of the Democratic Party as a whole — at the ballot box,” she said in a statement.

Curtis Bashaw said he’s running because of “Menendez’s never-ending corruption scandal,” suggesting that could be a feature of a fall campaign with him in it.

“It’s Senator Menendez’s prerogative to run for re-election as an Independent,” Bashaw said in a statement, “but I’m confident New Jersey voters are ready to make a change from the corruption and machine politics that have defined New Jersey Democrat politics for far too long.”

And Alex Zdan, a former television news reporter, put the race in a broader perspective, saying that “Democrats like Phil and Tammy Murphy protected Menendez until there was an opportunity to advance their own ambition” and that “I will prosecute the corruption of the state Democratic party on the campaign trail and on the debate stage this fall.”

The son of Cuban immigrants, Menendez entered politics in 1974, getting elected to the school board in Union City, a small but dense and diverse city in the shadow of Manhattan. But he made his name testifying against his mentor, then-Union City Mayor and state Sen. William Musto, who was convicted of corruption and sentenced to prison. Menendez then became mayor of Union City in 1986, and the following year was soon elected to the state Legislature. He won a House seat in 1992, rising in the three decades since to become one of New Jersey’s most powerful and beloved elected officials.

His past year in Congress was defined by allegations of corruption and bribery, all of which he has repeatedly denied. The first news of the indictment broke in September, when court documents accused Menendez and his wife of accepting bribes in forms of cash, a car and gold bars to help aid the Egyptian government.

The allegations only got deeper as the session in Congress went on. He was accused of acting as an unregistered foreign agent for Egypt in October. In January, legal documents alleged he spoke positively about Qatar in exchange for bribes. And just a few weeks ago, federal prosecutors indicted the embattled senator and his wife once more for allegedly lying about bribe money.

Throughout it all, Menendez has maintained his innocence. Despite calls from within his own party and state to resign, Menendez stayed in office, saying he was being falsely attacked as a Cuban-American. And Menendez has reaffirmed that “of course” he could win reelection.

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

Kim was the first House member from New Jersey to call on Menendez to resign and announced a bid for Senate immediately after. He has cited the alleged corruption as inspiration for his bid.

Murphy joined the race in November with the support from influential Democrats in the state, some of whom have connections to her husband, Gov. Phil Murphy. Her campaign did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment.