Sen. Bob Menendez says he won’t run in the Democratic primary
Sen. Bob Menendez says he won’t run in the Democratic primary

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) attends a Senate Finance Committee hearing on the 2025 budget on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, U.S. March 21, 2024. Photo: Elizabeth Franz/Reuters

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey said Thursday he will not run in the Democratic primary as he faces federal corruption charges, but left open the possibility of re-entering the race as independent later that day year if acquitted at trial.

Menendez’s announcement comes four days before the state’s June 4 deadline to file in the Democratic primary, which is already being contested by Rep. Andy Kim and New Jersey First Lady Tammy Murphy. The nearly 10-minute video shows Menendez talking about his decades in Congress, pushing for help for his state, including Superstorm Sandy recovery and COVID-19 relief.

“The current charges I am facing, of which I am innocent and will prove it, will not allow me to have this type of dialogue and debate with political opponents,” he said in a video posted on social media. “You deserve to hear from those who wish to represent you about what they would do for you and your families in the future. That’s why I won’t be running for the Democratic Party this June.”

Menendez said he hopes he will be exonerated at trial and can run as an “independent Democrat” in the general election.

The ruling comes as Menendez fights federal bribery charges along with his wife, Nadine, and three business partners.

READ MORE: Judge rejects Sen. Menendez’s claims that legislative immunity protects him from bribery charges

Menendez and his wife are accused of accepting bribes in gold bullion, cash and a Mercedes-Benz in exchange for the senator’s help with projects pursued by three New Jersey businessmen. In exchange for the catch, Menendez helped one of the men get a lucrative meat certification deal with Egypt, taking actions favorable to the Egyptian government, according to prosecutors. An additional indictment says Menendez helped another associate close a deal with a Qatari investment fund.

The senator, his wife and two of three business partners pleaded not guilty. One of the business partners pleaded guilty and agreed to testify in the case.

Menendez’s withdrawal from the Democratic primary sets the stage for Murphy and Kim to vie for the party’s banner in a deep-blue state that hasn’t elected a Republican to the Senate since 1972.

Murphy is a first-time candidate running with the support of party influencers. Kim is a three-term congressman who has focused his campaign in part on overturning the state’s unique ballot design, widely seen as favoring candidates favored by local party officials.

“I will win in November even if I have to beat Menendez and a Republican at the same time,” Kim said in a post on X, formerly Twitter.

Murphy said in an X post that the state needs a senator focused on the issues facing New Jersey families.

“Senator Menendez continues to put what is best for the people of New Jersey and the Democratic Party as a whole. He should not have the privilege of serving in the Senate in any capacity,” she said.

The stakes are high as Democrats race to retain their narrow control of the Senate.

Republicans have their own primary field, including Southern New Jersey businessman Curtis Bashaw, Mendham Borough Mayor Christine Serrano Glassner and former television reporter Alex Zdan.

Menendez, who is serving his third full term in the Senate, has been elected at every level in the state. His reputation among Democrats withstood an earlier federal corruption trial that ended in a hung jury and saw him re-elected in 2018 with the full support of his party.

This time, however, Democrats called for his resignation soon after the Justice Department case was unsealed. The day after the first indictment in September, Kim announced his campaign.

Menendez, who has maintained a defiant tone since the indictment was announced, mixed that with resignation in his more than nine-minute video.

“I know many of you are hurt and disappointed in me by the charges I am facing,” he said. “Believe me, I am also disappointed by the false accusations. All I can ask is that you withhold judgment until justice is done.”

The son of Cuban immigrants and a lawyer by training, Menendez was a member of the Union City, New Jersey school board at age 20 and became mayor of the city where he still has deep roots.

His own biography highlights the fact that he wanted to fight corruption early in his political career, testifying against Union City officials and building a reputation as a tough guy. From there, he was elected to the state assembly, then the state senate, before heading to the US House of Representatives.

Menendez was appointed a U.S. senator in 2006 when the seat opened up after John Corzine, the incumbent at the time, became governor.

He was directly elected in 2006 and again in 2012 and 2018. He was chairman of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee in early 2013, but lost that post after the earlier impeachment. He regained his position after federal prosecutors did not renew charges in that case, which ended in a mistrial.

He was again forced to relinquish this position after being impeached in 2023.

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