Menendez kicks off Senate re-election campaign

BY Michael Aron, Chief Political Correspondent |

Sen. Bob Menendez put on a big show Wednesday morning in his hometown of Union City. A who’s who of North and Central New Jersey Democrats filled the first four rows. The high school gym was packed with several thousand students, all of whom where there to watch Menendez declare for a third term.

“There’s nowhere else I’d rather be than once again to be in Union City and saying, ‘I’m Bob Menendez and I’m running for the United States Senate,'” he said.

Last fall, he was on trial, accused of participating in a bribery scheme. That ended in a mistrial, which breathed new life into Menendez’s political career. He’s being challenged in November by Republican Bob Hugin, who’s the former CEO of Celgene, a pharmaceutical company.

The Hugin campaign, in a statement Wednesday, said that Menendez is “corrupt,” “ineffective,” and asked, “Is this the best we can do?”

Hugin later released a video attacking Menendez, saying that the senator “solicited and accepted extravagant gifts from Florida doctor Salomon Melgen.”

“Bob Menendez may have avoided prison, but he disgraced New Jersey,” the ad claims in its closing line.

Menendez never mentioned Hugin, except obliquely, in reference to Celgene’s pricing policy.

“When drug companies were hiking costs on cancer patients, I was working to make medicine affordable for families and seniors,” said Menendez.

Menendez came up through Union City politics — school board, mayor, assemblyman, state senator, congressman, U.S. senator.

“My story is your story,” said Menendez, repeating the line in Spanish.

He is known for his hard work and mainstream Democratic values. Sen. Teresa Ruiz served as his master of ceremonies.

“More than ever, we need somebody in Washington fighting for our rights as Bob does every single day,” said Union City Mayor Brian Stack.

Gov. Phil Murphy literally bounded up onto the stage.

“Where would we be without Bob Menendez? Where would we be, and frankly, I don’t want to think about that,” said Murphy.

Sen. Cory Booker brought the crowd to its feet.

“Ladies and gentlemen, it is our time to stand with Bob Menendez, our champion. It is our time to stand for our values,” Booker said.

Spotted beforehand were power brokers: Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo; Rep. Albio Sires, NJ State AFL-CIO president, Charles Wowkanech, Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop, former Gov. Jim McGreevey and former Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto.

Menendez has relationships with all of them, but spoke also to the kids in the crowd.

“Some of you are not old enough to vote. I am not here to ask for your vote. I am here because I am your vote in the United States Senate,” he said.

From there, Menendez headed to Sewell in Gloucester County to repeat the announcement for a South Jersey audience. The Menendez camp showed Wednesday that it can turn out people. In eight months, they’ll try to show they can also turn out voters.