New Jersey First Lady Tammy Murphy enters Senate race to replace Menendez

New Jersey First Lady Tammy Murphy enters Senate race to replace Menendez – Tammy Murphy, the First Lady of New Jersey actively involved in state governance, is entering the 2024 Democratic U.S. Senate primary, aiming to succeed the indicted Sen. Bob Menendez. A 58-year-old former Republican, she emerged as a frontrunner, leveraging her husband’s governorship and a substantial network cultivated over six years as a prolific fundraiser for party leaders. 

She follows Rep. Andy Kim (D-N.J.) as the second major Democratic figure to announce candidacy. While not explicitly mentioning Menendez, Murphy incorporated his image in a segment of her video launch, denouncing Capitol politics. “Right now Washington is filled with too many people more interested in getting rich or getting on camera than getting things done for you,” she said. 

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Menendez, facing extensive federal charges of bribery and acting as an unregistered foreign agent for the Egyptian government, has not confirmed plans for reelection but hinted at it, stating he is used to tough fights. Despite pleading not guilty, he vaguely criticized Tammy Murphy, suggesting she would have to handle significant baggage if she runs. 

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While Menendez secured a 10-point victory in 2018 after a hung jury on previous corruption charges, recent polls indicate a sharp decline in his New Jersey favorability, with only 8 percent in October. Tammy Murphy, formerly a Republican until the mid-2000s, emphasized her Democratic stance on abortion, guns, and the environment in her campaign announcement, despite voting in a Republican primary as recently as 2014, after her husband’s roles in the Democratic National Committee and as U.S. ambassador to Germany in the Obama administration.

Indications of Tammy Murphy’s heightened involvement in her husband’s administration emerged shortly after Phil Murphy’s 2018 inauguration. The administration converted a conference room near the governor’s office into a dedicated workspace for her. With four grown children, Tammy Murphy championed maternal mortality as her primary cause, shedding light on New Jersey’s comparatively high maternal death rate. 

She emphasized the stark disparity, noting that Black women were nearly seven times more likely than white women to succumb to childbirth-related complications. Her “Nurture NJ” initiative contributed to New Jersey’s ascent in national rankings for maternal deaths, moving from 47th to 27th, as highlighted by her campaign. In her campaign video, Murphy highlighted this aspect, acknowledging that she didn’t face concerns about surviving childbirth or the quality of care for her newborns due to inherent advantages she enjoyed.

“The money in our family’s bank account, and frankly, the color of my skin meant I could get the best care available,” she said. “But that’s not the case for a lot of women.” Murphy emphasized her environmental efforts, notably achieving the milestone of making New Jersey the first in the nation to integrate climate change into school curricula. In the political realm, she stands out as one of the New Jersey Democratic Party’s leading fundraisers, fostering connections with influential party figures who influence county party endorsements. 

These endorsements could grant Murphy “the line” in most counties, a distinctive aspect of New Jersey’s ballot design allowing party-endorsed candidates to run together in the same column or row across all primary races, from town council to president. Murphy’s entry into the race faced skepticism from some progressives who viewed it as nepotism, particularly considering Menendez had facilitated his son’s election to the House more than a year before his indictment. 

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Tammy Murphy also stirred controversy for leading the political nonprofit, Stronger Fairer Forward, which promotes her husband’s policies and has resisted disclosing its donors to the public. Criticism emerged in the early term of the governorship regarding living conditions for the women’s soccer team they co-own, previously named Sky Blue, but improvements were pledged, leading to the team’s recent league championship as Gotham FC.

While Kim has garnered support from left-leaning groups, Murphy’s campaign is poised to leverage the party’s infrastructure and her policy successes appealing to Black voters, a significant segment of the Democratic Party’s base. Alongside Kim, left-wing activist Lawrence Hamm and Kyle Jasey, a real estate lender dropping out of the Senate race to challenge Menendez’s son, U.S. Rep. Rob Menendez, are also vying for the Democratic nomination.

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