Rob Menendez wins primary amid father’s trial, and more election results

Rep. Rob Menendez, D-N.J., won his primary Tuesday, NBC News projects, fending off a challenger who sought to tie the congressman to his father’s ongoing corruption trial. 

Menendez defeated Hoboken Mayor Ravi Bhalla, who outraised and outspent his opponent, in the 8th District primary in northern New Jersey. With 73% of the vote in, Menendez led Bhalla 54% to 35%. A third candidate, businessman Kyle Jasey, took 11%.

Bhalla and his allies had tried to link the congressman to his father, Sen. Bob Menendez, who is on trial for federal bribery charges. The senator has pleaded not guilty, and the younger Menendez has not been accused of any wrongdoing or linked to the charges.

America’s Promise PAC, an outside group supporting Bhalla, launched a TV ad with a narrator saying: “They say the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. So it’s no wonder that Rob Menendez is defending his father’s corruption,” later adding that the congressman is “rotten to the core.” 

But those efforts weren’t enough to unseat Menendez, 38, who was first elected in 2022 after serving as a commissioner on the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

Menendez received a boost on the airwaves in the race from BOLD PAC, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus’ political arm, in the majority- Hispanic district. He is expected to carry the deeply Democratic district in the November general election.

Meanwhile, Rep. Andy Kim won the New Jersey Democratic Senate primary, NBC News projects, potentially setting up a clash with Sen. Menendez, who has filed to run as an independent.

Kim has warned that an independent bid from Menendez, who has served in the Senate since 2006, could put seat in deep blue New Jersey in jeopardy for the Democrats. Kim initially sought to challenge Menendez in the Democratic primary, launching his run in September after Menendez was indicted.

“Our work is just beginning,” Kim said in a statement Tuesday night. “New Jersey has a choice: the chaos and corruption of Bob Menendez and Donald Trump, or a politics that works for families struggling to get by. New Jersey deserves better, and I’m ready to take our movement for change to the U.S. Senate.”

His victory on Tuesday is an anticlimactic end to a primary that was initially shaping up to be bitter and expensive after first lady Tammy Murphy jumped into the race. But Murphy ended her campaign as Kim tapped into grassroots anger aimed at the party machine, which often involves party leaders hand picking their preferred candidates.

Kim had said he faced pressure to drop out of the race after Murphy entered.

“I don’t think I can look my two kids in the eye if I drop out of this race simply because someone who’s more connected than me is jumping in, but somebody I think that I have more experience than,” Kim told NBC News back in March.

Kim has proven to be a strong fundraiser, and grabbed national attention for helping to clean the Capitol Rotunda after the Jan. 6, 2021 riot.

On the Republican side, real estate developer Curtis Bashaw, who is self-funding his campaign, won the New Jersey primary for Senate, NBC News projected. He defeated a field of candidates that included Mendham Borough Mayor Christine Serrano Glassner, who was endorsed by Trump.

Menendez’s move to file to run for re-election will also allow him to continue to raise and spend campaign funds on legal fees.

Kim’s Senate run opened up his House seat in the Democratic-leaning 3rd District. State Assemblyman Herb Conaway, an Air Force veteran and a physician, won the Democratic primary for that seat Tuesday night after getting some help from outside groups including VoteVets and 314 Action, which backs candidates with STEM backgrounds.

Other Senate matchups will also be set in Tuesday’s primaries, including in Montana, where Republicans are expected to pick businessman and former Navy SEAL Tim Sheehy to take on Democratic Sen. Jon Tester in one of the most hotly contested races of this election cycle. 

In New Mexico, Nella Domenici, whose late father Pete Domenici served as the state’s senator for more than three decades, won the Republican primary for Senate. She’ll face Democratic Sen. Martin Heinrich in the Democratic-leaning state November. 

President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump have been their party’s presumptive nominees for several months now. But there were still some protest votes against Biden in New Jersey related to the Israel-Hamas war as the slogan “Justice for Palestine, Permanent Ceasefire Now” appeared on the ballot underneath the choice of “uncommitted” in the Democratic presidential primary.

With a little more than half the vote in, nearly 32,000 voters, or 8% of the New Jersey Democratic primary electorate, cast their ballot for “uncommitted.