U.S. Rep. Andy Kim said he was motivated to run for indicted Sen. Bob Menendez's seat to restore the public's damaged trust in government. (J. Scott Applewhite | Getty)
Almost two months after launching a bid for indicted Sen. Bob Menendez’s seat, U.S. Rep. Andy Kim is centering his campaign around restoring Americans’ faith in government, as such public trust has fallen to near-record lows.
“I think I just hit a breaking point when it came to the brokenness of our politics,” he told the New Jersey Monitor on Monday. “I just have to do everything that I can right now to be able to try to fix that. In particular, I just get so frustrated when it comes to the lack of trust in our government.”
Menendez’s recent federal corruption indictment — his second in nine years — was the final straw for Kim (D-Burlington), who announced his intent to seek the seat just a day after authorities accused Menendez of trading official favors for cash, gold, and a Mercedes Benz.
Menendez, a Democrat who has held the seat since 2006, has not said whether he would seek reelection, but observers agree he would face grim prospects in a quest for a fourth term.
Though he won reelection in 2018 after a jury deadlocked in his first corruption case, he made a poor showing in the primary, losing 38% of the vote to perennial candidate Lisa McCormick, who did little to mount a serious challenge.
Menendez’s more recent indictment, which alleges the senator was compensated for improperly speeding military aid to Egypt and trying to influence a friend’s criminal case, presents a more lurid story of corruption than his 2015 indictment, which accused the senator of trading official favors for gifts like campaign contributions and private jet flights.
Menendez has denied wrongdoing and rejected Democratic calls for his resignation. Kim said that motivated him to run.
“We live in the time of the greatest amount of distrust in government in modern American history, and 84% of New Jerseyans think their politicians are corrupt,” he said. “I just think restoring that integrity and that trust is absolutely essential right now.”
Kim, who served as a national security official during President Barack Obama’s administration, entered Congress as part of 2018’s Democratic wave, which cut the number of Republicans in New Jersey’s congressional delegation from six to two.
The three-term congressman snared national attention after being pictured picking up litter left by Trump supporters who attacked the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, in a bid to stop the certification of President Joe Biden’s victory.
Kim, a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, sits on the House Armed Services, Small Business, and Foreign Affairs committees, credentials he said the country needs amid renewed conflict in Eastern Europe and the Middle East.
“I’ve been saying this a lot lately: I believe the next four to five years could very well shape the next four to five decades of this country, and in this moment of chaos and craziness, I feel compelled to do everything I can do and be in the place where I can have the most impact,” Kim said.
In Congress, Kim has backed legislation on ethics reforms and drug affordability, including provisions of the Inflation Reduction Act that capped out-of-pocket prescription costs for seniors on Medicare to $2,000 a year.
“They will never have to pay more than $166 a month, no matter how many different types of medications they take, no matter what diseases or illnesses or challenges that they face,” Kim said. “That’s going to be really transformative for a lot of people.”
He butted heads with former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi over a proposal to bar members of Congress from trading individual stocks, a plan the congressman supported.
Kim won’t be alone in seeking Menendez’s seat, even if the incumbent chooses to forgo a reelection bid.
Larry Hamm, an activist who led Sen. Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign in New Jersey in 2020, already launched a campaign for the seat. and Kyle Jasey, a real estate lender and son of Assemblywoman Mila Jasey (D-Essex), stood up a Senate campaign but will now run for Rep. Rob Menendez’s (D-Hudson) House seat.
First Lady Tammy Murphy is expected to announce her Senate bid this week.
She has reportedly already won support from some Democratic Party leaders who could award her party lines in some counties. Most New Jersey county party organizations award organizational lines, which lend endorsed candidates a favorable position on the ballot that has a measurable effect on primary election outcomes.
Among the candidates, Kim is the only one who has won elected office, experience he said would prove handy next year.
“I’m battle-tested. I’ve won really tough races, so I understand what I’m getting myself into,” Kim said. “It also means I understand how to win in tough circumstances.”
The race likely will be decided in June’s Democratic primary instead of next November’s general election. Republicans have not won a race for New Jersey’s two U.S. Senate seats in more than half a century.
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