Bob Menendez is innocent until proved guilty.
In a politically charged environment, wherein the GOP itself sustains their presidential frontrunner’s ongoing allegations of weaponized law enforcement, Menendez may prove yet again to demonstrate elusive and survivalist powers.
But for some time, Democrats behind the scenes have anticipated what life what might not be like if Menendez – whether because of legal troubles or simply his own decision to retire – does not run for reelection in 2024.
It’s a presidential election year, perhaps already encumbered for Democrats by President Joe Biden’s low approval rating.
If Menendez decides not to run, the U.S. Senate seat becomes an additional play piece for those powers already jockeying to determine who will succeed Governor Phil Murphy and, simultaneously, the next totem configuration of Trenton leadership.
Now, this election could play havoc with those powers, if the Menendez charges sufficiently impair incumbent Democrats from maintaining a majority.
But, even if the Dems punishment beyond their initial imagining in this cycle, they will have to assess some kind of statewide power sharing arrangement when it comes to assembling their tickets.
At the heart of it, InsiderNJ posited this in March:
Sources in the Democratic Party describe the more animated than prior movements of two players on the field of the 2025 gubernatorial gladiatorial games. They are U.S. Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-5) and U.S. Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-11), from Bergen and Essex counties respectively.
Before Donald Trump’s foray into presidential politics, neither CD-5 nor CD-11 contained a Democratic representative on that seat; so both Sherrill and Gottheimer share the experience of having flipped a district from R to D and have held it in hard weather.
Newly in the minority, Gottheimer’s been getting around now, moving, shaking, transmitting a somewhat electric sense of government competence, making his case for an executive job, not with any panicked sense of urgency, as though he needs to get out of D.C. – but with purposeful positive energy.
He’s ventured south, into the political bloodstreams of Essex and Middlesex, in particular, making a case for statewide viability, presumably with an eye on 2025 and the post-Phil Murphy era.
Simultaneously, his colleague Sherrill has stepped up her own forays beyond her home county of Essex, finally hearing her champions’ cries to get out there and look like an interested party in the game for governor.
One source suggested, amid the crisscrossing circuitries of Sherrill and Gottheimer, that the two might at one point find themselves trading governor for senator.
Which of these two will assume which office?
It’s very hard to say, mostly because no one wants to appear to be sniffing around the senate seat.
Everyone must say he or she wants to be governor until an actual opening occurs.
But that configuration arguably makes the most organizational sense, given the power projection of the two main players.
In addition, the power of Middlesex Democrats in the statehouse gives them a role to play here in the simultaneous power-sharing arrangement of the next senate president and speaker.
Unlike Essex, which will not be impacted by the Menendez story because it faces no general election tests, Middlesex must endure a true challenge this cycle, especially now, and particularly as it fights to convey Vin Gopal, Andrew Zwicker, and, yes, Linda Greenstein, back to the senate.
After Menendez, will Middlesex be as strong as it was yesterday?
Regardless of the outcome, they retain significant power, even if only in a swivel and not the driver position, as long as other entities remain to be appeased or sustained.
The other wrinkle is Gov. Phil Murphy.
He could appoint himself to the senate seat, sources say.
Or his wife.