Members of New Jersey’s political dynasty will be well represented in November’s ballot
A pair of House candidates in New Jersey will bring some serious name recognition when voters decide their political fates in November.
Democratic House candidate Bob Menendez Jr. is virtually guaranteed to win his race. But in a neighboring district, Republican Tom Kean Jr. is poised for an uphill battle as he tries to defeat a sitting lawmaker.
In either case, their famous fathers are political heavyweights who helped pave the way for the namesakes.
Menendez Jr., is the son of Democratic Senator Bob Menendez. Junior Menendez has never held public office before, but on Tuesday night he won an easy primary in the 8th Congressional District, a majority Democratic enclave that includes some of New Jersey’s most urban areas, including parts of Elizabeth and Jersey. Town. Menendez is virtually assured of victory against his Republican rival Marcos Arroyo.
Menendez Jr. is set to replace incumbent Democratic Representative Albio Sires. Menendez Jr. was effectively handpicked by powerful local Democrats for the job. It’s part of a political path greased by his father, who is the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and came to the restless political world of New Jersey. The elder Menendez held the House seat his son is running for 13 years beginning in 1993, before being nominated to an open Senate seat and then single-handedly winning three times.
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After his victory, Menendez Jr. thanked his parents “for instilling in me the same spirit of public service that has guided them throughout their lives.”
Menendez Jr.’s only government experience is with the Port Authority, which he joined in June 2021. But not everyone is in favor of catapulting the young Menendez into Congress.
Drew Sherman, opinion columnist at Star Ledger, called the campaign to put Menendez Jr. in power “an act of nepotism so brazen it’s almost awe-inspiring.” But Sherman acknowledged that any effort to run against him would be an uphill battle.
“Bob Sr. has already recruited the entire Democratic machine of New Jersey, Gov. [Phil] Murphy included, to help build the family dynasty,” Sherman said ahead of Tuesday’s primary.
Nationally, Menendez Jr. has received support from the Political Action Committee of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, to which his father belongs. The 36-year-old was also endorsed by Murphy before he even launched his campaign and won the backing of the Hudson County Democratic Organization, which helped kick out his two main opponents in Tuesday’s primary.
Dan Smith, a Columbia University professor who studies comparative politics, told the New Jersey Monitor that having a famous last name might not be enough to get a slam dunk. Smith, however, said, “Dynastic candidates generally enjoy strong advantages in name recognition, campaign finance and networks.”
Assuming Menendez Jr. wins in November, he will be among the 500 parent-child combinations that have been elected to Congress, according to the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress. However, only a few served simultaneously.
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More recently, Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) and his son, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), both known for their uniquely libertarian conservatism, overlapped in office from 2011 to 2013.
Sen. Barry Goldwater (R-AZ) and Rep. Barry Goldwater, Jr. (R-CA) served together for a much longer period. The senior Goldwater won his Senate seat in 1968 after being absent for four years, following his unsuccessful presidential bid in 1964 as a Republican nominee. The senior Goldwater made a name for himself politically as an arch-conservative during his first stint in the Senate of 12 years, beginning in 1953. Barry Goldwater Jr. won a special election to the House in 1969 to represent a district of the Los Angeles area. Goldwater Jr. was in office during the 1982 election cycle when he lost a Republican Senate primary bid.
Sen. Barry Goldwater’s ideological opposite, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA), was also in office for a long time while his son was in the House. The liberal icon, who was the brother of President John F. Kennedy and Attorney General and Democratic Senator from New York Robert Kennedy, was a member of the Senate for nearly 47 years until his death in August 2009. One of son of Ted Kennedy, former Representative Patrick Kennedy, held a House seat in neighboring Rhode Island from 1995 to 2011.
The senior Menendez’s tenure ends in 2025, meaning the father-son team will be in office together for at least two years.
Building a political dynasty in Congress has been more of a challenge for a prominent Republican political family, the Keans. But they try.
In New Jersey’s 7th District, Tom Kean Jr., the former Republican leader of the state Senate and son of former Gov. Tom Kean, defeated six GOP challengers on Tuesday night to secure his party’s nomination. The thriving neighborhood stretches from New York’s suburbs and suburbs west to the Pennsylvania state line.
Kean’s primary win sets up a much-anticipated rematch against Rep. Tom Malinowski, considered one of the most vulnerable Democratic incumbents up for reelection this year. The seat is a traditionally Republican stronghold, and the political environment is poor for Democrats amid President Joe Biden’s declining approval ratings, soaring gas prices and the worst inflation in 40 years. House Republicans need to win five seats in the 435-member chamber to regain the majority they lost in 2018, and New Jersey’s 7th District is seen as a key pick-up.
But Kean didn’t have an easy path to the House. The former rising star, 53, ran for Congress on and off for more than 20 years.
In 2020, Malinowski, in his first re-election bid, beat Kean Jr. by 1.2 percentage points. Kean was the GOP nominee for the Senate in 2006, a bad Republican year. Kean lost to the elder Menendez, 53.3% to 44.3%. And Kean first ran for Congress in 2000, when he lost a Republican House primary bid to eventual Rep. Mike Ferguson.
The elder Tom Kean served as governor of New Jersey from 1982 to 1990. Kean later served as chairman of the 9/11 Commission, leading the investigation into the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
And her son relies on the family name to introduce himself to the House.
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When Kean Jr. announced his intention to run, he did so by claiming, “I’m a Tom Kean Republican.”
He meant being a centrist Republican in New Jersey’s political tradition, rather than a populist-nationalist sidekick to former President Donald Trump.
Kean Jr. managed to outplay all of his major opponents, grossing $2.2 million, with $1.2 million in hand as of May 18.