Sen. Bob Menendez Wins Tight Reelection Race

Democrats were forced to spend heavily to bolster the scandal-plagued lawmaker.

Senator Bob Menendez speaks during a rally on November 4, 2018 in Hoboken, New Jersey.Kena Bentancur/AFP/Getty Images

Let our journalists help you make sense of the noise: Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter and get a recap of news that matters.

Overcoming corruption allegations, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) held on to win reelection on Tuesday, according to multiple networks. His victory was costly for Democrats, though: The party and its allies were forced to spend heavily in blue-leaning New Jersey to bail out the veteran senator.

Menendez edged out Bob Hugin, a former pharmaceutical executive, who spent more than $35 million of his personal fortune on the race. Much of Hugin’s warchest went toward a barrage of negative ads highlighting federal charges that Menendez abused his office to do favors for a wealthy campaign donor in exchange for lavish gifts.

In a state with 900,000 more registered Democrats than Republicans, Menendez’s unusually close race looks attributable to the lingering taint of corruption allegations against him. In 2015, federal prosecutors charged Menendez with taking various steps to help a wealthy campaign donor, Florida ophthalmologist Salomon Melgen, in exchange for campaign donations and gifts, such as airplane tickets to luxurious locales and free vacations. Menendez, who served as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, pressured the State Department to help secure US visas for women that Melgen dated. Menendez also attempted to pressure the Secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius, over a Medicare billing policy that Melgen believed cost him money. Melgen was later convicted of Medicare fraud and sentenced to 17 years in prison.

The federal case against Menendez ended in a mistrial last year after a jury failed to reach a verdict. A judge later acquitted Menendez of seven charges. The Justice Department dropped the rest. But in April, the Senate Ethics Committee admonished Menendez for accepting gifts of significant value from Melgen while using his status as a senator “to advance Dr. Melgen’s personal and business interests.”

The panel, employing relatively strong words by Senate standards, said that Menendez’s “conduct violated Senate Rules, federal law, and applicable standards of conduct” and “reflected discredit upon the Senate.”

The victory came at a cost for Democrats. Party leaders repeatedly stuck by Menendez despite his ethics woes, a result that drew sharp criticism as he wobbled late in the race. Senate Democrats last year allowed him to return to the top post on the foreign relations committee following his mistrial. And Democrats spent heavily down the stretch in an expensive media market to prop up Menendez’s campaign, burning dollars that could instead have helped other endangered Democrats. Democratic super PACs spent more than $10 million on the race. Menendez, usually a prolific fundraiser, was restricted by his partial focus on raising more $5.1 million for a legal defense fund used to cover payments to his attorneys.

We want to hear from you. How are you reacting? Do you have a message for the winner? Let us know by filling out the form below, send us an email at, or leave us a voicemail at (510) 519-MOJO. We may use some of your responses in a follow-up story.


Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

payment methods

We Recommend