It was a mixed reaction to the candidacy of first lady Tammy Murphy into the race in an attempt to unseat three-term U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez in the 2024 Democratic primary.

Menendez used the occasion to launch an angry attack on both the first lady and Gov. Phil Murphy. The governor had quickly called for Menendez to step down after the initial indictments were made public.

"When Phil Murphy rushed to judgment and called on me to resign, it was clear he had a personal, vested interest in doing so at the expense of core democratic principles — the presumption of innocence and due process," Menendez said in a statement after Tammy Murphy's announcement.

"Gov. Murphy has said he won’t appoint his wife to the seat, but why would he since there was never a need to? They believe they have to answer to nobody."

Menendez attacks New Jersey's Democratic governor

The incumbent also said Tammy Murphy was a "card carrying Republican" in the early 2000s. He also brought sore points about the Murphy administration including the deaths in veterans during the COVID-19 pandemic and a quote that has haunted the governor about affordability in New Jersey.

"Mrs. Murphy will need to explain why she and the governor believe that if taxes are your issue, New Jersey is not your state," Menendez said in his statement.

Menendez has not announced if he will seek re-election to the seat he has held since 2006.

Tammy Murphy has never held an elected office but worked behind the scenes for years as her husband prepared a run for governor.

Gov. Phil Murphy and wife Tammy Murphy at UFC 288 at the Prudential Center in Newark 5/6/23
Gov. Phil Murphy and wife Tammy Murphy at UFC 288 at the Prudential Center in Newark 5/6/23 (Gov. Phil Murphy)

The shadow of her husband

Tammy Murphy will also need to get past the perception that her husband's political clout is giving her an advantage in the race. It is a perception that Tammy Murphy will have to deal with sooner rather than later, according to Micah Rasmussen director of the Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics at Rider University. Her role as first lady is the only thing many people know her for.

"It starts with even just her announcement video. How much do you feature Governor Murphy? Do you feature your spouse? And how much do you try to stand on your own two feet. She did a little bit of both," Rasmussen told New Jersey 101.5.

"She certainly is going to have to contend with the fact that people know one thing about her and that is who she's married to."

The video featured several images of Tammy and Phil Murphy both now and when they first met in the 1970s.

The Rev. Charles Boyer, executive director of the civil rights group Salvation and Social Justice and senior pastor of the Greater Mount Zion AME Church in Trenton, told New Jersey Globe that while he is happy to see a woman running for the seat she will have to earn support from the Black community.

“If the power of the governor is perceived in any way to influence support or intimidate people for not supporting her, it will be an affront to democracy and seen as suspect," Boyer told the Globe.

Announced and potential U.S.Senate candidates for the 2024 primary
Announced and potential U.S.Senate candidates for the 2024 primary (Canva)

A public benefit for Tammy Murphy's candidacy?

Rasmussen also sees Tammy Murphy's candidacy as keeping a kind of third term for the governor as he winds down his second and final term.

Instead of a period of un-accountability that goes with being a lame duck, Tammy Murphy will have to answer for the actions of Murphy's administration, as Menendez is already attempting to do.

"She will need to finally address why so many veterans died in state-run nursing homes during the COVID-19 pandemic and why the state hasn't fully implemented a tutoring program to address learning losses with federal funding I brought back to New Jersey," Menendez said.

It is something the public will benefit from, according to Rasmussen.

"In a sense, the public is very fortunate that we get to continue to hold the governor's feet to the fire through his wife running for office," Rasmussen said.

Rep. Andy Kim, D-N.J., helps ATF police officers clean up debris, after protesters stormed the Capitol in Washington, on Jan. 6, 2021
Rep. Andy Kim, D-N.J., helps ATF police officers clean up debris, after protesters stormed the Capitol in Washington, on Jan. 6, 2021 (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Benefiting from a somber moment

As for U.S. Rep. Andy Kim, D-3rd District, he may be able to capitalize on the somber photos of him on his knees helping clean the Capitol hours after the Jan. 6 insurrection.

"I see a lot of that same spirit in the way that he jumped into the race, He saw a problem, he saw a mess that he had the ability to help clean up and he did not think twice about it. He rolled up his sleeves and he jumped in, And that's admirable, and that's something we can all look at that and that can capture our imagination," Rasmussen said.

The two-term Democrat will have to work hard to get past Murphy and Menendez, according to Rasmussen.

"He's gonna have to, in some cases, challenge the county party line or a county party organization in some counties, and maybe build rival lines to run against them," Rasmussen said. "They may be distasteful, they may be strong-arm political things to do. But that's how you win. You don't just win by being the nice guy in the race."
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