Rep. Robert Menendez Jr. wins NJ Democratic primary

Rep. Robert Menendez Jr. still has the golden touch.

Menendez Jr. overcame the weight of his last name and scored the Democratic nomination for a second House term Tuesday after surviving a spirited primary challenge from Hoboken Mayor Ravi Bhalla in the Garden State’s 8th Congressional District.

The 38-year-old freshman had been dogged by fallout from the bribery indictment against his father, Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and his stepmother Nadine Menendez.

Although Menendez Jr. wasn’t implicated in the case, many observers had seen the indictment as the likely downfall of the family political machine.

The winner of the primary will be heavily favored to defeat Republican Anthony Valdes in November and represent the majority-Hispanic district, which covers parts of Newark, Jersey City and Elizabeth.

Rep. Rob Menendez cruised to victory in the 2022 election for his father Sen. Bob Menendez’s former House seat. CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

If Bhalla won, he would have been on track to become the first Sikh American to serve in Congress in over 60 years after Rep. Dalip Singh Saund, who represented California from 1957 to 1963.

Rob Menendez leaned into his first name — rather than his famous surname — in his campaign signage ahead of the primary. Obtained by The New York Post

The Democratic nominee is heavily favored to defeat Republican Anthony Valdes in November and represent the majority-Hispanic district, which covers parts of Newark, Jersey City and Elizabeth

The contest had widely been seen as a test of the Democratic machine in New Jersey, which once wielded tremendous influence over primary contests.

All that changed after Rep. Andy Kim (D-NJ) helped tank the so-called “County Line” system, in which local party bosses elevated their preferred candidates by grouping their preferred contenders together on the ballot.

New Jersey Republicans still use that system.

Hoboken Mayor Ravi Bhalla tried to use Bob Menendez’s corruption trial against Rob Menendez Jr. — despite the son not being implicated in any way. AP

Menendez Jr. enjoyed both the incumbency and the backing of top New Jersey Democrats, having campaigned with Gov. Phil Murphy over the weekend.

Top House Democrats, including Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), also helped fundraise for the younger Menendez in advance of the primary showdown, according to Axios.

In 2022, Menendez Jr. coasted to victory in the Democratic primary with 83% of the vote.

But this time, it quickly became apparent there would be stiffer competition due to the elder Menendez being indicted on bribery charges in September of last year.

Bhalla, who entered the race weeks after the charges dropped, had endorsed Menendez Jr. during the 2022 election cycle — something he later chalked up to intimidation.

“I was threatened by the Menendez machine, saying that if you don’t endorse him, Hoboken is going to get hurt,” Bhalla, who was elected mayor of Hoboken in 2017 and re-elected in 2021, alleged during their debate last week.

Menendez Jr. worked to court Latino voters, describing himself as “New Jersey’s only Hispanic Congressman” and enjoying the support of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus’s Super PAC BOLD, which blanketed the airwaves in support of him.

The elder Menendez has filed to run for re-election as an independent, but faces a very treacherous path back to the upper chamber given his low standing in most polling.

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