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8th district Democratic candidate David Ocampo Grajales. (Photo: Ocampo Grajales for Congress).

Menendez gets two opponents in 8th congressional district

Rojas, Ocampo Grajales both seek to run progressive campaigns against senator’s son

By Joey Fox, January 18 2022 2:25 pm

Rob Menendez, a member of the Port Authority board and the establishment choice for the 8th congressional district, gained two challengers for the Democratic nomination in the past week.

Last Wednesday, Union City electrical engineer Ricardo Rojas launched his campaign, saying that he was running “to end the corrupt systems that oppress and divide us.”

“It’s time for a change, for everyday people to have a seat at the decision-making table,” Rojas said in a statement, as reported by the Hudson County View. “That’s why I’m running for Congress: to empower people and fight for our community’s interests, not the party bosses.”

Rojas is the co-founder of Progressive Democrats of New Jersey (PDNJ) and served as the campaign manager for Hector Oseguera, who ran for the district in 2020 and garnered 27% of the vote. PDNJ made headlines last year for its botched attempt to run a slate of legislative and local candidates in Union County, which fell apart when Senate candidate Jason Krychiw was revealed to have embellished his employment history.

Joining Rojas over the weekend was David Ocampo Grajales, the 25-year-old director of a health care startup from Jersey City.

“We need a representative in Washington who has the will to put people before profits and communities before corporations,” Ocampo Grajales said in a statement. “Our communities deserve someone who actually represents us, who has the same sense of urgency that we do, and who knows we can’t afford to wait anymore.”

Both candidates say they’re running as progressives, and list their support for policies like Medicare for All and the Green New Deal. But also implicit in their campaigns is a critique of the easy path that Menendez, the son of Senator Bob Menendez, has had towards Congress. 

When current 8th district Rep. Albio Sires (D-West New York) chose to retire last month, the state’s Democratic power players – including Gov. Phil Murphy, Senator Cory Booker, and the Hudson and Union County Democratic Parties – endorsed Menendez before he had even formally launched his campaign.

Because of that bedrock of support, Rojas, Ocampo Grajales, and any other candidate that may choose to run in the district will face an uphill battle for the nomination against Menendez.

The 8th district isn’t the only one featuring a David-versus-Goliath nomination battle. In the neighboring 10th district, Imani Oakley is hoping to unseat Rep. Donald Payne, Jr. (D-Newark) from the left, while in the heavily Republican 4th district, Rep. Chris Smith (R-Hamilton) faces a small herd of conservative challengers.

One such challenger, Rev. Shawn Hyland, dropped out of the race earlier this month and endorsed Smith; another, Army veteran Mike Blasi, recently issued a call for a primary debate among the race’s five remaining candidates.

Finally, in the Democratic-held but potentially competitive 5th district, Republican Marine veteran Nick De Gregorio’s campaign against Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-Wyckoff) today got the endorsements of Republican municipal chairs in Dumont, East Rutherford, Fairview, Garfield, Lodi, Maywood, and Saddle River.

This story was updated at 3:45 p.m. with a correction – Ocampo Grajales is the director of a health care start-up, not the founder – and the addition of Nick De Gregorio’s municipal endorsements.

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