New Jersey Democrats and Republicans picking Senate, House candidates amid Menendez corruption trial

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — New Jersey Democrats and Republicans decide their parties’ standard-bearers Tuesday for the Senate amid the federal corruption trial in New York of New Jersey Democratic incumbent Sen. Bob Menendez, along with candidates for the presidency and House.

Menendez, a longtime Democrat, filed on Monday to run as an independent. He’s not on the primary ballot. Instead, Democratic voters are deciding between Rep. Andy Kim, labor leader Patricia Campos-Medina and longtime grassroots organizer Lawrence Hamm.

On the GOP side, it’s a four-way contest but southern New Jersey hotel developer Curtis Bashaw has gotten significant county party backing, and Mendham Borough Mayor Christine Serrano Glassner won former President Donald Trump’s endorsement.

While New Jersey hasn’t elected a Republican to the Senate since 1972, the stakes are high in the divided Senate where Democrats have a narrow majority. The GOP is looking at Menendez’s independent run as a potential wedge that could boost their chances in the fall.

Menendez, his wife, and two business associates have pleaded not guilty to federal charges that the senator traded the promise of official acts for gold bars, cash, a luxury vehicle and a mortgage payment. A third business associate has pleaded guilty and agreed to testify in the case for prosecutors.

President Joe Biden and Trump are on the ballot as well, both already their parties’ presumptive nominees.

The Democratic Socialists of America are also backing a protest vote for delegates to the national convention against Biden over his handling of the violence in Gaza. Democrats in delegate districts across the state will have the chance to vote for “uncommitted” on delegate ballot.

Jessica Dunlap, a spokesperson for the effort in New Jersey, said the goal is to send a message to Biden about his policies toward those living in Gaza. Appearing under “uncommitted” on the ballot will be the slogan: “Justice for Palestine, Permanent Ceasefire Now.”

A similar effort in Michigan this year yielded the group with two delegates, compared with Biden’s 115 in that state.

New this year for Democrats will be the demise of the so-called county line, the ballot system in which those with party backing got grouped together and those without it were frequently listed in what was known as “ballot Siberia.”

The end of the practice stems from a lawsuit Kim and other Democratic candidates brought in federal court, alleging the system unfairly put a thumb on the scale for those with party connections. A federal judge halted the system for this year’s Democratic primary only, as no Republicans joined the suit.

Practically, the change means that candidates for office will be grouped together, as is done in every other state.

But that won’t go for Republicans — whose county parties that still back candidates have retained the system. State legislative leaders have said they would take up the ballot issue but so far haven’t passed any legislation changing how the state conducts primaries.

Voters will also be picking House candidates. Among the most closely watched districts are those that have some tie to Menendez’s current circumstances. In the 3rd District, which Kim represents and is leaving to pursue the Senate seat, Democratic Assembly colleagues Herb Conaway and Carol Murphy are vying to go to Washington. In northern New Jersey’s 8th District, incumbent Democratic Rep. Rob Menendez — the senator’s son — is seeking reelection against Hoboken Mayor Ravi Bhalla, who’s tried to tie Rob Menendez to his father.

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