U.S. Senate candidate Rik Mehta wasn’t worried about spreading COVID-19 while campaigning in Sayreville two days after attending a Bedminster fundraiser where President Donald Trump spoke after testing positive for the virus.
“I was asymptomatic. We were more than 40 feet away from the president,” Mehta told the New Jersey Globe Wednesday. “We weren’t in contact. I would argue that we weren’t even in proximity of someone COVID positive.”
Mehta, who is running to oust U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, said he was tested for COVID on Saturday. The results, which he received today, were negative.
A video posted to Mehta’s Facebook page Saturday morning showed the candidate maskless and in close proximity to Sayreville Councilwoman Donna Roberts, who was also not wearing a mask.
The video also showed Sayreville Republican Chairman Arthur Rittenhouse, council candidate Karen Bailey Bebert and three others standing in close proximity to one another. None of the five wore masks, though one individual had a mask hanging from one ear.
Mehta said he was socially distanced from those five, adding that masks went on once the recording stopped.
“We weren’t door-knocking. We were standing outside, and yes, when people were around, we had our masks on,” he said. “Obviously, when I’m recording a video, I’m not near anybody. I’m by myself, and when we pointed the camera, we were more than six feet apart.”
Mehta drew headlines and a rebuke from Gov. Phil Murphy earlier this week after he said he did not intend to quarantine following the Bedminster fundraiser.
The governor claimed not to know who Mehta was, adding the refusal to quarantine “should disqualify him from seeking public office.”
The Republican charged Murphy was just trying to put his finger on the scale in Booker’s favor.
“The fear mongering needs to stop. The public health guidance wouldn’t even qualify me to quarantine,” Mehta said. “The governor has made this into a political hit job to sideline our campaigning. This isn’t the first time he’s done that. He’s already impeded on an active U.S. Senate campaign when he started to use his attorney general’s office to attack the Atilis Gym.”
In a brief filed in mid-September, Attorney General Gurbir Grewal’s office claimed the gym, which Mehta uses as a campaign headquarters and which is best known for flouting the governor’s shutdown orders early into the pandemic, was still operating as a gym and ignoring the 25% capacity limit on such facilities.
Put simply, the state argued the gym’s attempt to rebrand itself as a political facility was an effort to circumvent capacity limits.
“This has just become more of a political hit job to protect Cory Booker as he’s continuously shown and done,” Mehta said.
Republicans haven’t won a race for U.S. Senate in New Jersey since 1972.