The Weird Gimmick That May Decide New Jersey’s Next Senator

December 6, 2023

When Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) was indicted for a years-long bribery scheme, Rep. Andy Kim (D-NJ) seized on the opportunity to launch a Senate bid the very next day.

Pitching himself as a straitlaced alternative to the corruption-magnet that is Menendez, the three-term congressman raked in nearly $1 million over his first week in the race.

n New Jersey’s primary elections, 19 of 21 counties give prime real estate on the ballot to the preferred candidates of county parties in a process known as the “county line.”

Julia Rubin, a Rutgers public policy professor and expert on the county line balloting, has found that candidates that were on the county line have a 38-point advantage over their opponents.

Rubin described the line bluntly to The Daily Beast: “It’s very, very powerful.”

Rubin called the system, “one of the last vestiges of political machines,” and likened the process to New York’s notorious Tammany Hall in the early 20th century.

“We have a system that is not dramatically different, where essentially, five men decide who’s going to be our governor, who’s going to be our senators,” Rubin said. “Because we have this overwhelming power in the county line system, and that power resides legally in the county party chairs and the largest county chairs account for a disproportionate number of votes.”

Rubin—who is neutral in the race—told The Daily Beast it’s possible that candidates can overcome the county line, citing a 2020 example when a county-backed political science professor lost in the primary to Amy Kennedy, the wife of former Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-NJ). (Kennedy went on to lose in the general election to Rep. Jeff Van Drew (R-NJ).)

“What you need is a lot of resources. Like Andy Kim has to be able to raise a lot of money in this particular case. And then I think he has to run as a reformer, he has to run against the machine and the political systems that enable the machines to prosper,” Rubin said.

“Amy Kennedy did some of that when she ran,” Rubin continued. But Kennedy, she said, “wasn’t running against the governor’s wife and her opponent hasn’t been endorsed by every one of those counties.”

The Daily Beast, December 6, 2023

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