Amid the fracturing, pushing and shoving and stunned silences of a semi-shocked Democratic Party establishment in New Jersey, where everyone appears intent on shoveling his or her own successor into the seat U.S. Senator Bob Menendez won’t abandon, a source made the point that the party hasn’t adequately digested the meaning – and the potential catastrophic consequences – of losing an Hispanic voice on the national stage.
The Tammy Murphys, Mikie Sherrills, and Josh Gottheimers have the operatives attached to the suburban chattering classes moving in for the kill.
But, the source noted, the absence of a Latino on the throne of senate power here could prove significantly detrimental to Democrats, who are already close to fumbling a key demographic going into a presidential election year.
From The Hill this week:
“Most Hispanic voters expressed frustration with the economy and the direction of the country in a new poll, though a minority of those respondents pinned the blame on President Biden.
“The poll from Noticias Univision found 54 percent of Hispanics said soaring prices and the cost of living are the most important issues facing the country, a sentiment that was felt most strongly by Republicans but shared by a majority across party lines.
“Just over half of respondents said the U.S. is ‘seriously off track,’ while 26 percent said things were ‘going in the right direction.’ This attitude differed across party lines, with 75 percent of Republicans believing the U.S. is ‘seriously off track’ compared to 39 percent of Democrats and 53 percent of Independents.”
In addition, consider this commentary by Gabriel R. Sanchez:
“Reinforming the trends noted in the earlier Brookings post, Democrats definitely benefited from the support of young Latino voters in 2022. The 2022 Midterm Election Poll reveals that 68% of Latinos between the ages of 18 and 29 supported a Democratic House candidate in 2022, 4% higher than the overall percentage for Latino voters and a full 8% higher than Latino voters between the ages of 40 and 59.
“In spite of this, the 2022 election data also suggests that young Latinos’ relationship with the Democratic Party is far from cemented. Although only 4% of Latinos under the age of 30 believe that the Democratic Party is hostile toward the Latino community, 37% report that Biden and Democrats ‘don’t care about the Latino community.’ This is 7% higher than the percentage of African American voters under 30 who share this view of the Democratic Party.”
Finally, from Politico:
“There’s evidence that Hispanic voters helped deliver Democrats big Senate wins of 2022 in Arizona and Nevada. A coordinated effort by Democratic groups focused on turning out more voters in a non-presidential election year and ramping up spending on Spanish-language advertising. By doing so, the demographic stretched several margins during the midterms, tipping the scale for Democratic senate and gubernatorial candidates. Hispanic voters are the second-largest voting bloc in the country, which means improving margins among this group can pay dividends in key states.”
Those dynamics ahead of next year’s presidential year, not to mention sustained party building going forward, have urban sources in New Jersey keen on advancing a what they see as an important argument against that national backdrop as Menendez melts down.
New Jersey’s senior senator is scheduled to address the senate caucus tomorrow, Thursday, but though he pleaded not guilty to federal charges in court today and said on Monday that he refuses to step down, a growing number of his cloakroom colleagues, especially those in battleground states, want him gone.
In New Jersey, Hispanic leaders in elected office continue to respect Menendez’s history in the community and his record, and don’t want to stick a fork in him prematurely.
None of them have said anything.
That said, their allies don’t want to miss an opportunity to advance the larger cause, which could suffer critical damage if Menendez does indeed go down and the party replaces him with a non-Hispanic.
The source specifically mentioned the appeal of state Senate Majority Leader M. Teresa Ruiz (D-29), a longtime veteran of the senate, who has the unique combination of policy chops and real-world, on-the-ground political horse sense. Ruiz has proved herself a foundational part of a vaunted Essex County democratic organization that, for all its countywide victories, never advanced beyond the electric visions of its primary leader, the late Steve Adubato, Sr.
Without getting too detailed, fractures within the Hispanic community, and – to put it gently – ignorance among whites in party positions of power, have long favored the continuing power regeneration of Cuban Americans in this state.
Other groups have organized for years only to see Cubans elevated.
Not to discount critical – and real – solidarity politics within those communities that speak Spanish, and, for years, a particular enthusiastic support for Menendez as a vital and more than competent spokesman not just for New Jersey, but for Latino issues – but other Spanish-speaking groups crave a chance at expanded representation.
That aspiration dovetails perfectly with the party’s timely requirement of Hispanic leaders who can speak to Latinos, especially young Latinos, to remind them of Democratic Party priorities, as the GOP seeks greater demographic gains.
As the most senior Hispanic elected official in the state after Menendez, Ruiz would be the favorite, but party organization juggling appears to present serious obstacles. Essex likes U.S. Rep. Mikie Sherrill for statewide office (either senate or governor). Other key counties would likely not favor two senators from Essex (sitting U.S. Senator Cory Booker is from Essex) and a governor (if Ruiz were to go to the U.S. Senate and Sherrill to Drumthwacket) from Essex.
It’s volatile, with even Governor Murphy treading carefully as sources trial balloon his wife as an occupant of the seat, and the congress people in the vicinity of a statewide run intently discussing policy, so they don’t have to talk about politics. But at least one source alert to the consequences of Menendez departing, even as Ruiz as a state lawmaker offers the additional enticement of party leaders not having to pull a federal incumbent off his or her district watch. In addition, certainly, Essex County Democratic Chairman LeRoy Jones showed his awareness of the delicate base voter situation when his county party committee – rather than try to advance an all-Irish American male ticket – reconfigured an LD-27 team that contains two Hispanic women.
Perhaps that helps in Essex.
But the loss of Menendez – in the seat since 2006 and a go-to campaign source for his party – would do more than merely again humiliate New Jersey. It would create a national-sized void for a critical demographic – usually oversimplified and misunderstood – that would under such circumstances especially, require a renewing and robust champion.