New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez was indicted over felony charges of fraud, bribery and extortion on Friday. Prosecutors say the Democrat received hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes from a number of businesspeople in return for secretly aiding the Egyptian state.
The Justice Department says that Menendez and his wife were given gold, cash, a luxury vehicle and payments towards a home mortgage by New Jersey businessmen Wael Hana, Jose Uribe and Fred Daibes. This came in exchange for advancing their interests and those of the Egyptian government. Both Menendez and Nadine Arslanian, who were married in 2020, deny all the charges against them.
The indictment and upcoming trial could have a major impact on the 2024 Senate elections in New Jersey, with one analyst, Inside Elections, changing its forecast for the race from “solid Democratic” to “likely Democratic.” Currently, the Senate contains 51 Democrat-aligned senators, versus 49 Republicans. However, the GOP is hoping to seize the chamber in November 2024 and will be thrilled by the possibility that a traditionally deep-blue state could come into play.
In terms of the impact on 2024, much depends on whether Menendez runs again, or whether he retires or faces a successful primary challenge. The senator has given no indication he intends to step down, saying prosecutors had “misrepresented the normal work of a Congressional office” in a statement sent to Newsweek.
The New Jersey Democrat added: “I have been falsely accused before because I refused to back down to the powers that be, and the people of New Jersey were able to see through the smoke and mirrors and recognize I was innocent.”
In 2015, Menendez was indicted on charges of bribery, fraud and making false statements in an unrelated case, but the jury was deadlocked when the trial took place in 2017, resulting in the judge declaring a mistrial. Menendez has stepped down as chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, though this is required by Democrats for any of their members charged with a felony.
If Menendez resigns immediately, a successor will be appointed by New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy. They could potentially then run in November 2024 with the advantage of incumbency. New Jersey Representatives Mikie Sherrill, Josh Gottheimer and Andy Kim have been tipped as possible Senate candidates, and each has demonstrated formidable fundraising capabilities. Alternatively, Menendez could announce he will retire after the next election, setting up a Democratic open primary in New Jersey.
Should Menendez seek reelection in 2024, he is likely to face a primary challenge, as he did in 2018 after his first indictment when he beat Lisa McCormick to retain the Democratic Party candidacy. Potentially, a big beast of New Jersey politics could challenge him, such as one of the three representatives listed above. However, if not, there might be an opportunity for a less well-known Democrat to pull off a surprise.
In 2018, Menendez beat his Republican challenger with 54 percent of the vote to 43 percent. Should he secure the Democratic nomination again in 2024, the GOP might think they stand a chance. The local newspaper New Jersey Globe reported that Christine Serrano Glassner, a mayor in Morris County, is the current Republican frontrunner to contest the New Jersey seat.
After the indictment was announced, FiveThirtyEight, another election-analysis site, gave the Democrats a 94.6 percent chance of winning the seat next year, against 5.4 percent for the Republicans.
Newsweek has reached out to Senator Bob Menendez for comment by email and voicemail message.