New Jersey politics 2018: Midterms loom, Christie moves on
Michael Catalini, Associated Press | 1/1/2018, 11:57 a.m.
TRENTON, N.J. — The new year in New Jersey politics will answer how successful Democrats can be in picking up House seats in the face of President Donald Trump's unpopularity, what Gov. Chris Christie will do after leaving office, and what Sen. Bob Menendez's corruption case will mean for his future in the Senate.
The midterm elections come as congressional Republicans and Trump suffer from low approval ratings, though buoyed by their first major legislative achievement with the passage last week of a $1.5 trillion tax overhaul.
New Jersey will also see a handover of power from Republican Christie to Democratic Gov.-elect Phil Murphy on Jan. 16.
Here's a closer look at what's coming up in New Jersey politics in 2018:
One of the biggest question marks hanging over New Jersey's political landscape surrounds Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez.
Menendez is up for re-election and he has the vocal support of the state's top Democratic office-holders. But federal prosecutors have not yet decided whether to re-try him on corruption charges after a jury failed to reach a verdict this year.
Menendez denied wrongdoing and pleaded not guilty to charges that he accepted lavish vacations to the Caribbean and Paris from Florida eye doctor Salomon Melgen in return for helping him with a Medicaid billing issue.
The New Jersey seat is one of many that will decide the fate of the Senate. Republicans now have a narrow 51-49 margin, but Democrats are defending more seats in Republican-leaning states than Republicans are in Democratic-tilting ones.
The GOP is using the prospect of another Menendez corruption trial against Menendez in deep blue New Jersey, which has about 800,000 more Democratic voters than Republicans.
If he runs, he can expect Republicans to make the trial an issue, in part because Menendez has seen his approval ratings decline over the course of the proceedings. If he decides not to run, Democrats could see a bruising primary with a deep bench of Democratic officeholders in line for a potential statewide run.
National Democrats' challenging path to capturing a House majority would likely have to cut through New Jersey, where Republicans control five of the state's 12 congressional seats.
One of the Democrats' best chances could come in New Jersey's 2nd District, which includes Atlantic City. Twelve-term Republican Rep. Frank LoBiondo is retiring, spurring Democratic state Sen. Jeff Van Drew to announce a bid for the seat. Van Drew has a moderate voting record and is considered his party's best chance of flipping the Republican-leaning southern New Jersey district.
GOP Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, the powerful Appropriations Committee chairman, also looks to be in for a strong challenge from Democrat Mikie Sherrill. She's a former Navy pilot and federal prosecutor who has raised $744,000 and has about $500,000 cash on hand. Frelinghuysen has about $1 million on hand, according to Federal Election Commission Records.
Democrats have also recruited former Obama administration officials to run in the 3rd District against Republican incumbent Tom MacArthur and in the 7th District against Republican Leonard Lance.
CHRISTIE'S AND GOP'S NEXT ACT
New Jersey's two-term, headline-grabbing Republican governor will be out of work come Jan. 16. Christie has not said what he's doing next, but he's given a few hints.
He's expected to write a book and also says he wants to spend more time with his family, have fun and make money.
Christie is leaving his party in a diminished state. Democrats have grown their majorities in both houses of the Legislature, flipped a congressional seat in 2016 and gained an additional 100,000 registered voters since he was elected. -- (AP)