Politics

TV Pundit Exploring Primary Bid Against Menendez in New Jersey

Michael Starr Hopkins has filed with FEC

Powerful New Jersey Democrats have stuck by Sen. Robert Menendez since a judge declared a mistrial in his federal corruption case. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Democratic political pundit and attorney Michael Starr Hopkins is exploring a primary bid against Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez in New Jersey. 

“I’m taking the first steps towards challenging Bob Menendez because I believe New Jersey deserves a fresh start, the chance to vote for someone who hasn’t been tainted by the culture of corruption in Trenton and Washington, someone who doesn’t owe any favors to the political establishment or powerful interests,” he wrote in an op-ed in The Hill on Monday afternoon. 

Raised in Washington, D.C., Hopkins has lived in Jersey City for the last few years. He’s worked as public defender in New York City and has been a political commentator on Fox, MSNBC and CNN and a contributing writer for the Huffington Post and The Hill. Last year, he worked on Hillary Clinton’s campaign in Colorado. 

Menendez faced 18 counts of alleged corruption, but a federal judge declared a mistrial in the case last month after the jury said it was deadlocked on all counts. The Justice Department is reviewing Menendez’s case and it’s possible he could stand trial again.  And back in Washington, the state’s senior senator is facing a Senate Ethics Committee investigation. 

[Mendendez’s Trouble May Not Be Over with Jury’s Verdict

“If what Menendez did doesn’t disqualify you from serving in the Senate, then what does?” Hopkins wrote. 

He pointed to the senator’s low approval rating (32 percent in a recent Morning Consult survey). “The jury couldn’t make up its mind, but the people of New Jersey clearly have,” Hopkins wrote.

Hopkins argued that nominating Menendez could jeopardize the Garden State seat and threaten the Democratic Party brand as it tries to make gains in 2018. 

Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales currently rates the New Jersey Senate race Solid Democratic

Menendez celebrated the mistrial ruling outside the federal courthouse in Newark last month, calling it “Resurrection Day.” He also had a warning for his political enemies.

“To those who were digging my political grave so that they could jump into my seat, I know who you are and I won’t forget you,” he said.

New Jersey’s Democratic leaders rallied around the senator after the mistrial, pledging their support for 2018. That included Gov.-elect Phil Murphy, Sen. Cory Booker, state Senate President Stephen Sweeney, South Jersey powerbroker George Norcross and the Democratic chairs in Bergen, Essex, Hudson, Passaic and Middlesex counties. 

Menendez ended the third quarter with $3.9 million in the bank. The primary would be in June. 

It would be difficult to launch a primary campaign and raise money with the party apparatus stacked against a challenger. But not impossible, said one Democratic operative who has worked in the state.  

“It’s a tough race to win, but US Senate campaigns are of a different nature than low profile races where being on the party line has a huge impact,” the operative wrote in an email.

There could be an opening for a progressive Democrat to run in the mold of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and amass sizable small-dollar contributions, the operative said. That could be someone like former Assemblyman John Wisniewski, who was one of Sanders’ biggest backers in the state. Wisniewski lost in the gubernatorial primary to Murphy earlier this year.

Hopkins is touting himself as a Clinton and Obama campaign alumnus.  Attending Eckerd College, Hopkins served as deputy state director of the Florida chapter of Students for Obama in 2008. He served as deputy director of voter protection for Clinton’s campaign in Colorado in 2016. 

Hopkins’ campaign didn’t have any comment Monday about whether he’s spoken to political leaders in New Jersey or about how he plans to run a campaign. He filed with the FEC on Nov. 28. 

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