NJ election results: Andy Kim wins Senate primary amid Menendez trial

WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 17: Representative Andy Kim, (D-NJ), speaks during a House Small Business Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Friday, July 17, 2020. The hearing is titled "Oversight of the Small Business Administration and Departmen

Democratic Rep. Andy Kim has won New Jersey’s Senate primary, putting him in strong position for the general election in the blue-leaning state, though the win comes a day after Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez filed to run as an independent amid his federal corruption trial.

His victory comes after a bruising start to the primary, when a battle between him and New Jersey first lady Tammy Murphy began to take shape. Murphy, a first-time candidate and the spouse of Gov. Phil Murphy, bowed out of the contest, saying she did not want to engage in a negative campaign against a fellow Democrat. On Tuesday, Kim defeated labor leader Patricia Campos-Medina and longtime grassroots organizer Lawrence Hamm, who remained on the ballot.

Kim’s entrance into the race stemmed in part from the federal corruption charges in New York against the incumbent Menendez, who declined this year to seek re-election as a Democrat. He filed Monday in Trenton to run as an independent and has said he hopes to be cleared of the charges this summer.

Democrats’ tight hold on control of the U.S. Senate means they can hardly afford a competitive race in a state widely viewed as safe for the party. It’s unclear how Menendez’s trial will end up and how his candidacy could affect the race. Republicans are eager to exploit his run as a wedge to divide the Democratic vote.

Kim, a mild-mannered three-term congressman who gained recognition for helping clean up the Capitol after the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection, launched his bid the day after Menendez’s indictment, saying it was time for the state to move on.

Murphy joined the contest later last year and quickly earned support from influential county party leaders, a sign that she would be earning their endorsement and with it the so-called county line — or favorable positioning on the primary ballot.

But Kim and other candidates sued to stop that decades-old practice, which is widely viewed as a giving New Jersey party bosses sway over primaries, and a federal judge agreed to halt it.

Kim, 41, is a native of southern New Jersey and returned to his home state in 2018 to run for Congress, defeating Republican Tom MacArthur in the 3rd District. A Rhodes Scholar, Kim served in the Obama administration as a national security adviser, working at the departments of State and Defense as well as the National Security Council.

In a four-way Senate contest on the GOP side, southern New Jersey hotel developer Curtis Bashaw has gotten significant county party backing, and Mendham Borough Mayor Christine Serrano Glassner won former President Donald Trump's endorsement.

While New Jersey hasn't elected a Republican to the Senate since 1972, the stakes are high with Democrats holding a slim majority in the body. The GOP is looking at Menendez's independent run as a potential wedge that could boost their chances in the fall.

"Republicans have the best opportunity to win this seat in 52 years," Republican state Sen. Mike Testa said in a statement.

Menendez spoke briefly Monday outside the New York court where his trial is being held, saying he has not changed politically despite running under his own banner instead of seeking the Democratic nomination.

Kim said Tuesday that Menendez's run is selfish and, "I'm stepping up to restore integrity back into the U.S. Senate."

Menendez, his wife, and two business associates have pleaded not guilty to federal charges that the senator traded the promise of official acts for gold bars, cash, a luxury vehicle and a mortgage payment. A third business associate has pleaded guilty and agreed to testify in the case for prosecutors.

President Joe Biden and Trump were on the ballot as well, both already their parties' presumptive nominees.

The Democratic Socialists of America is backing a protest vote for delegates to the Democratic national convention: Voters will have the option of choosing "uncommitted" on delegate ballots, with the slogan "Justice for Palestine, Permanent Ceasefire Now" appearing below.

Jessica Dunlap, a spokesperson for the effort, said the goal is to send a message to Biden over his policies toward the war in Gaza.

A similar effort in Michigan this year yielded two delegates, against 115 for Biden.

New this year for New Jersey Democrats will be the demise of the so-called county line, a system under which those with party backing got grouped together on the ballot while those without were frequently listed in what was known as "ballot Siberia."

The end of the practice stems from a federal lawsuit Kim and other Democratic candidates alleging that it unfairly put a thumb on the scale for those with party connections. A judge halted the system for this year's Democratic primary only, as no Republicans joined the suit.

The change means that Democratic candidates will be grouped together, as is done in every other state.

Voters were also picking House candidates, with some of the most closely watched races having some tie to Menendez.

The contest in the 3rd District, which Kim represents and is leaving to pursue the Senate seat, was between Democratic Assembly colleagues Herb Conaway and Carol Murphy.

In the 8th District, Democratic Rep. Rob Menendez — the senator's son — was seeking reelection against Hoboken Mayor Ravi Bhalla, who sought during the campaign to link the incumbent to his embattled father.

Polls closed at 8 p.m.