Kim’s Stunning Senate Run Poised to Further Disrupt NJ Politics

March 25, 2024

Rep. Andy Kim has already stunned New Jersey with his surging run for US Senate. Now he might turn the state’s entire political culture on its head.

Kim, a Democrat, scored an early victory Sunday when his chief primary rival, New Jersey first lady Tammy Murphy, unexpectedly dropped out of the race.

But as soon as this week, a federal judge could also rule on Kim’s lawsuit seeking to eliminate “the Line,” a distinctive New Jersey practice that gives huge advantages to candidates who win county party endorsements—and in turn empowers political warlords who frequently control those endorsements, and dominate the state’s politics.

Kim sued to end the practice after influential power brokers threw their weight behind Murphy, the onetime favorite in the Senate race. Her withdrawal represented a tacit acknowledgment of the grassroots wave propelling Kim and pushing for reform.

He’s now almost certain to replace scandal-scarred Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), who isn’t running for the Democratic nomination. But the court case could reverberate beyond this one race, potentially reshaping the state’s political landscape.

“It would be an earthquake, politically,” said Julia Sass Rubin, a Rutgers University professor who has studied the Line’s effects. “We are a machine-controlled state and what undergirds those machines, number one, is the county line.”

Only three state legislators have lost in the last 20 years while holding the county line, Rubin found in a study. No sitting US House member has lost in the past 50 years while having the endorsements, except in one instance in which two incumbents were drawn together in redistricting. Rubin served as an expert witness in the lawsuit challenging the system, but is not affiliated with Kim’s effort.

In many counties the endorsements, and preferable placement, are decided not in a vote, but by a small slate of party insiders—sometimes just the chair.

Rubin studied ballots across the country and found none like it. In other states, all the candidates for each office are typically grouped together in one list.

Some of the most significant effects of the Line are in lower profile races, such for county offices or state legislature, where voters have little information about the individual candidates.

“It’s really difficult for state legislators to have any independence. If they don’t vote the way these folks want them to, they lose the Line, and then they lose their election,” Rubin said.

Kim’s campaign, and his push against the Line, had elevated the primary race from a typical political contest to a symbolic fight over the state’s murky political ethics.

His success shows the simmering progressive energy and frustration that has been pushing for reform for years.

Party leaders appear to have belatedly recognized the mood. The top Democrats and Republicans in the state legislature issued a statement last week saying they were open to changes in the state’s ballot system, but didn’t commit to specific alterations.

The judge gets to weigh in next.

The case is Kim et al v. Hanlon D.N.J., No. 3:24-cv-01098, 02/26/24.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jonathan Tamari in Washington, D.C. at jtamari@bloombergindustry.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: John P. Martin at jmartin1@bloombergindustry.com; Loren Duggan at lduggan@bgov.com

Bloomberg Government, March 25, 2024

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