The power of money, establishment backing, name recognition and a controversial ballot design were on full display last night as Robert Menendez Jr. and Donald Payne Jr. easily won the right to run as Democratic congressional standard bearers in the November general election.
Menendez, 36, who will run to succeed retiring Albio Sires in the 8th congressional district, would, if elected, represent largely the same area that his father, U.S. Senator Robert Menendez Sr. represented until 2006. The district spans portions of North Bergen, Union City, Hoboken, Jersey City, Bayonne, Elizabeth, and Newark.
Following the announcement in January that he would run, Menendez received the backing of virtually the entire Democratic establishment as well as organized labor.
Payne who has held his father’s former seat in New Jersey’s 10th congressional district since 2012 also received widespread establishment backing. His district encompasses portions of Essex, Hudson and Union counties, and includes the cities of Newark and Orange.
In a primary where only 8 percent of registered voters cast ballots, Menendez cruised to victory with 83 percent of the vote. His two progressive challengers, Ane Roseborough-Eberhard and David Ocampo Grajales were only able to muster 5 percent and 11 percent of the vote respectively.
Ocampo Grajales was able to spend $37,000 on his campaign. Menendez raised over one million dollars for his.
Payne was also running against two progressives, Imani Oakley and Akil Khalfani. Like Mendendez, Payne glided to victory with 80 percent of the vote to Oakley’s 16 percent and Khalfani’s 3 percent.
With a war chest of close to $1 million, Payne out-raised Oakley by more than two to one.
Apart from name recognition and establishment backing, both Menendez and Payne may have also benefited from the ballot design, which placed them with other candidates endorsed by their respective Democratic organizations.
Many challengers and academics have argued the ballot design gives party-backed candidates an unfair advantage and is a reason so-called “off the line” candidates — often challengers to incumbents — rarely succeed. Last month, a federal judge ruled that a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the ballot design may proceed.
In November, Payne will face Republican David H. Pinckney. Menendez will go up against Republican Marcos A. Arroyo.