After a Year of Turmoil, Menendez Announces He Is Seeking Re-Election

UNSenator Robert Menendez, a Democrat from New Jersey, announced on Wednesday he will seek another term, with Senator Cory Booker, right, and Gov. Philip D. Murphy, center.


UNION CITY, N.J. — Senator Robert Menendez officially announced his intention to run for re-election at a raucous rally on Wednesday, a remarkable turn two months after federal prosecutors dismissed corruption charges against the New Jersey Democrat.

With nearly every state Democratic luminary inside a packed high school gymnasium here, it was an unusual show of force for a candidate who already enjoys a considerable lead in early polling.

In his kickoff speech, sometimes delivered in Spanish, Mr. Menendez vowed that he would continue to fight against President Trump’s agenda.

“There is a president in Washington who spends his days dividing us and distracting us, but never delivering for us,” Mr. Menendez said, drawing some of his loudest cheers.

In January, it was far from assured that Mr. Menendez would even be on the stage. For 11 weeks last year, the senator was a defendant in a federal corruption trial with headlines tracing the prosecution’s case, which accused him of abusing his office to help his friend and co-defendant, Dr. Salomon Melgen, an eye doctor and political benefactor from Florida.

But after jurors could not reach a verdict, the judge declared a mistrial and Mr. Menendez pronounced himself vindicated. Then the situation quickly changed. First, the Department of Justice announced that it would retry Mr. Menendez. Then the federal judge who oversaw the trial acquitted Mr. Menendez of several charges, severely hampering the retrial effort. Within days, the Department of Justice had dropped the case.

If Mr. Menendez was ever worried about his political future, he seemed determined to dispel any notion of that on Wednesday. His campaign playlist featured numbers like “The Champion” by Carrie Underwood and “I Won’t Back Down” by Tom Petty.

The people lining the rows in front of the stage at the rally, in the town where he began his political career, were a who’s who of New Jersey Democratic politics: Senator Cory Booker, Gov. Philip D. Murphy, Brian P. Stack, the mayor of Union City, and John Currie, the state party chairman.

“I asked the question this morning, ‘Where would we be without Bob Menendez?’ ” Mr. Murphy said.

While none of the speakers made explicit reference to Mr. Menendez’s legal battle, a common theme emerged: that the senator was, and always has been, “a fighter.”

“This is the man that we need in this fight,” said Mr. Booker, whose 10-minute introduction reached such a crescendo that his voice grew hoarse. “This is the man who will help us to stand against the storm, this is the man that is ready to continue to defend the State of New Jersey.”

Nearly the entire 2,800-student population of Union City High School, excused from four periods of classes, filled the gymnasium, waving campaign fliers and bopping to the music of Marc Anthony and Luis Fonsi.

Mr. Menendez focused much of his speech on the youth in the crowd, recalling the nationwide protests for stronger gun laws and how the students at the School had their own protest. It was the youth, he said, that motivated him to run again.

“While 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.

Mr. Menendez’s path to the Democratic nomination is fairly clear. If successful, his likely Republican opponent in the general election will be Bob Hugin, a former pharmaceutical executive with ties to former Gov. Chris Christie. Mr. Hugin’s ability to tap his fortune to finance his campaign could make the contest expensive and possibly more competitive than expected.

The race could also turn nasty. At the rally, members of the state Republican Party handed out Monopoly-like cards with Mr. Menendez’s face on a cartoon prisoner and a photo of Mr. Menendez and Mr. Melgen vacationing together.

If Mr. Menendez’s corruption trial dampened enthusiasm among Democrats it could spell trouble for other Democratic candidates in November. Democrats across the country are looking to House races in New Jersey as opportunities to pick up seats as they seek to wrest control from Republicans, but Democrats in those races will need a strong turnout to stand a chance.

For his part, Mr. Menendez has a keen understanding of local politics, having climbed nearly every rung on the political ladder, from school board member to mayor to state senator to congressman to United States senator, a position he assumed in 2005, when he was appointed by Gov. Jon S. Corzine.

He has been re-elected twice, in 2006 and 2012, and has been a prolific fund-raiser, having raised $17 million for his 2012 re-election, according to Federal Election Commission records.

Mr. Menendez on Wednesday referred to his roots and a career that started in this city’s school district as evidence of an American dream fulfilled.

“That is the promise of America,” he said, offering a subtle dig at Mr. Trump’s immigration policies. “That is the American dream. The idea that anything is possible because everyone is welcome.”

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