For years in New Jersey, any Democrat weighing a run for statewide office had to grapple with an important question: What about Bob?
It wasn’t a reference to the 1991 Bill Murray flick but to Bob Menendez, the incumbent U.S. senator whose political influence placed him atop the state Democratic Party food chain. He kept allies in line, helped anoint rising stars and had an important voice in determining the fate of both candidates and policy proposals. Even after a federal corruption indictment ended in a hung jury in 2017, Menendez continued to wield considerable power.
The “What about Bob?” question is no less relevant now, though it has taken on new meaning. It still bears no connection to the movie, though it has cinematic qualities of its own. Menendez is facing federal charges that he secretly aided Egypt’s authoritarian government and tried to thwart a friend’s criminal prosecution in exchange for gold bars and cash. He and his wife, who was also charged, and other co-defendants in the alleged scheme have all pleaded not guilty.
So if New Jersey Democrats ask the question these days, they’re more likely to be wondering when he’ll get out of the way and let them get on with the business of trying to keep a crucial U.S. Senate seat in Democratic hands.
Menendez, for his part, hasn’t said whether he’ll seek another term but vows that he’s “not going anywhere.” Jason Tuber, Menendez’s chief of staff, said in an email that the “people of New Jersey will determine who their Senator will be.” He didn’t specify Menendez’s plans.
“Senator Menendez has been powerful, effective, and indispensable in delivering for New Jersey and the Senator is prepared to put his record up against anyone who enters the race,” he said.
Still, many in the party he once held considerable sway over already are looking beyond him.
“Anybody looking at that indictment has no choice but to move on,” said former state Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg. “It was horrendous.”