The Menendez train nearly went off the rails last night

BOB MENENDEZ: Hi. My name’s Bob. I’d like to apply for the job of another six years as your senator!
NJ VOTERS: Oh, hi there, Bob. Okay. Let’s see here… have you ever been convicted of a major crime?
BOB MENENDEZ: Convicted? [Looks slyly to one side] No…. never, you know… convicted.

Do you suppose that New Jersey Democrats noticed that one of their senators came within a hair’s breadth of being sent off to the crowbar motel recently? When you’re a two-term incumbent Democratic senator in a blue state, the headline this morning should have been the simplest thing in the world to write. “Incumbent Menendez secures nomination for reelection.” And that’s technically still true because he did indeed win the primary. But instead of running the table in an easy jaunt, Bob Menendez lost nearly 40% of the vote from his own party. And to add insult to injury, he lost that many votes to somebody who almost no one had ever heard of and who had raised zero money for a campaign. (

Lisa McCormick’s surprisingly strong showing against U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez in Tuesday’s Democratic primary begs the question: What about Bob?

McCormick, a virtual unknown who did not report spending any money on the race, received the support of almost 4 in 10 Democratic voters.

While Menendez, D-N.J., was never seriously threatened with losing his party’s nomination for another Senate term, his performance wasn’t a good sign coming on the heels of his Senate Ethics Committee admonishment and a criminal corruption trial that ended in a hung jury before the charges were dropped.

If you’re scratching your head and wondering who Lisa McCormick is, don’t worry. You’re not alone. Most of the people who voted for her were similarly in the dark. This wasn’t a case of some rising star in the Democratic Party building a shocking grassroots movement to nearly topple Menendez from his left flank. I can’t find any indication of her running a single campaign ad or anyone talking about raising serious campaign cash or some volunteer army. She was a name on the ballot which wasn’t spelled “Menendez” and that’s all it took to get almost 40% of the Democrats to vote for her.

As the local coverage linked above indicates, that doesn’t mean that Menendez is on his way to defeat in November. Not by a long shot. But it’s also suddenly looking a lot more possible than it did this time last year. In theory, there are clearly enough votes available to elect a Republican in a statewide race, as proven by the election of a number of Republican governors in the past few decades including two wins for Chris Christie.

But I was chatting with my friend, New Jersey native Doug Mataconis on social media this morning and he reminded me of something. The Garden State’s voters tend to treat their state candidates differently than their federal ones. Despite the number of Republican governors they’ve elected, the GOP has been shut out of Senate races since 1979 and they haven’t gone for a GOP presidential candidate since 1988.

It all depends on who the GOP runs against Menendez and now that looks to be Bob Hugin, a former corporate CEO and political neophyte. He’ll have to keep himself at arm’s reach from Donald Trump and come across as a serious RINO in order to stand a chance. There are roughly 860,000 more registered Democrats than Republicans in New Jersey these days, so in order to win, Hugin would need to get all of the Republicans and independents and some Democrats to boot.

The professionals are all still calling this race either strongly or solid Dem, but there are several months left for the challenger to put a dent in that forecast. It would be a nearly miraculous upset if he did it, though. New Jersey Democrats are clearly disgusted with Menendez, but possibly not disgusted enough to send a Republican to Washington.