The speculation on the political fallout from the indictment of New Jersey Democratic US Senator Bob Menendez is in full swing. Let me add a few random thoughts.
1) Menendez is innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. He will be represented at his trial by very competent counsel. In the court of public opinion, however, he is finished. Charges of political corruption and bribery of this nature are lethal and render him categorically unelectable.
The Biden White House, Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, and the various key New Jersey Democratic leaders will bring all their powers to bear in pressuring Menendez not to run for reelection in 2024. They are gravely concerned regarding the damage his presence on the ballot will cause others on the Democratic line, up ballot, and down ballot.
Democratic leaders will assist Menendez with his legal defense fund if he does not seek reelection. They will allow him to serve the remainder of his term, expiring in January, 2025. Menendez will eventually agree to bow out and concentrate on his legal defense.
2. Look for Democratic Members of Congress Mikie Sherrill and Josh Gottheimer to make a deal. Gottheimer will run for US Senate in 2024 and Sherrill will run for governor in 2025. They will endorse each other’s campaign.
Gottheimer is right out of central casting for the Senate race, a virtual certain winner. His leadership of the Problem Solvers Caucus has made him a good government, bipartisan hero in an era of intense bitter political polarization.
Gottheimer also has a Federal PAC with $30 million. There is no Republican in New Jersey who can come close to him in terms of financial resources, intellectualism, issue incisiveness, and energy. He will begin his Senate service in 2025, when he will be just shy of 50 years old. If his health continues to be satisfactory, Gottheimer could serve at least until 2049.
Gottheimer’s endorsement of Sherrill is likely to win her the endorsement of the County Democratic Chairs of Passaic and Bergen County. This will give her the widest and most powerful geographic political base of all the prospective statewide Democratic gubernatorial candidates.
This will also result in basically a two-person matchup for the 2025 Democratic gubernatorial nomination: Mikie Sherrill v. Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop. In Fulop’s view, Sherrill will be perceived as the candidate of the Democratic establishment, and Fulop will be viewed as the grassroots alternative.
3. Actually, Sherrill versus Fulop was always the 2025 matchup Fulop desired and even thirsted for.
In Steve Fulop’s mind, his campaign has been one of direct appeal to Democratic Party constituents – progressives, labor, mayors, and ideological groups. The message is not to be filtered through county political bosses.
And the core of the Fulop message is his record as governmental executive service. This contrasts well with the Sherrill record, which does not match his in terms of governmental executive experience.
Will the Fulop strategy work? This is the key question of Campaign 2025.
One more question: Will Phil Murphy attempt to appoint himself to any US Senate vacancy? That is the major immediate unknown, a topic which deserves a separate column, which I intend to author.
Alan J. Steinberg of Highland Park served as regional administrator of Region 2 EPA during the administration of former President George W. Bush and as executive director of the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission.