Menendez probe provides last-minute surprise in sleepy House race in 8th District
Rob Menendez, left, who is seeking a House seat in the 8th District, called news of an investigation of his father, Sen. Bob Menendez, a "distraction." (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
The quiet race in New Jersey’s 8th Congressional District got a jolt this week after reports revealed Sen. Bob Menendez is under federal investigation again.
Menendez’s son, Rob, is the candidate in that district — though with fewer than two weeks left until Election Day, a district that is overwhelmingly Democratic, and a Republican opponent who is not mounting a real campaign, the younger Menendez will likely be spared any immediate repercussions from a scandal involving his father, political observers say.
“New Jersey has had enough experience with political scandals that we need to see a little more on the table before, you know, we’re going to be impressed,” said Micah Rasmussen, director of the Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics at Rider University.
Rob Menendez, 37, is running for the seat left open after Rep. Albio Sires announced he will retire from Congress after this term. He has never held elected office, but he has been a front-runner in the race for nearly a year, gaining the endorsement of numerous powerful Democrats before he even announced his candidacy.
Asked to comment, Rob Menendez said in a statement he has “unwavering confidence in my father, his long career as a public servant and his reputation for standing tall for families in Hudson County and across the state.”
“In my life, I have seen countless detractors who refuse to believe a son of immigrants from Hudson County could rise to be one of one hundred and yet he’s constantly proven them wrong. And thankfully those who know him and what he has stood for his entire career outnumber the naysayers,” Menendez said.
News of the probe broke Wednesday. At an event Friday in Port Monmouth to honor the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Sandy, Sen. Menendez told reporters he does not know the scope of the investigation but will help the authorities “when and if they ask.”
The last investigation into the senator — federal prosecutors alleged he accepted political contributions and gifts from Dr. Salomon Melgen in exchange for political favors, charges both men denied — did not end his political career. After his trial in that case ended in a hung jury in 2017, Menendez won reelection the next year with 54% of the vote.
In a state rife with political scandals, powerful party bosses, and unexpected comebacks, voters will probably want to know more about the latest investigation before holding it against the elder Menendez, let alone his son, Rasmussen said.
“We’ve been down this road before, and we’ve been down this road with Senator Menendez before,” he added.
Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute, noted that probably only a small portion of voters are even aware of the investigation unless they’re reading or watching the news closely, and generally, people keeping close tabs on that type of news are highly partisan.
“If you’re a Democrat, you dismiss it. If you’re a Republican, you might say that this is more proof,” Murray said. “But it doesn’t change anything.”
The 8th District is one of the most Democratic in the state. In 2020, Sires won nearly three times the votes as his Republican opponent (the district’s lines were slightly different then). The younger Menendez’s GOP opponent, Marcos Arroyo, does not appear to be campaigning and has not reported raising or spending any money. Rob Menendez has more than $400,000 in his war chest.
Murray expects Rob Menendez to win by a comfortable margin because the district has been favorable to Democrats by 50 to 60 points.
“As for our campaign, we will treat this story for what it is — a distraction. We continue to engage voters every single day as we have from day one and remain focused on the real issues that impact families across the 8th District,” Rob Menendez said.
Arroyo could not be reached to comment.
An earlier version of this story should have reported Patrick Murray said the 8th District has been favorable to Democrats by 50 to 60 points.
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