U.S. Senator Bob Menendez wants New Jersey Democrats to hold an open presidential primary, becoming the first major party leader to oppose organization lines in the race for the White House.
“I would implore the county chairs to have a separate column for an open presidential primary, while allowing usual ballot bracketing for down ballot races from U.S. Senate and House races down to county and municipal government,” Menendez said.
Under Menendez’s proposal, presidential candidates and their delegate slates would run on a separate line or column in the June 2 New Jersey primary, with organization lines existing for other offices.
“It is more important than ever that we take steps to insulate the presidential race from any undue influence on New Jersey’s other elections,” said Menendez. “Those running for public office in New Jersey should not be judged by what any presidential candidate says to lure voters in other states.”
According to Menendez, candidates for local, county or federal office “must be independently focused on addressing the unique needs of their constituents, instead of beholden to any national campaign.”
Menendez had endorsed fellow senator Cory Booker for the Democratic nomination early last year, but has not backed anyone else since Booker dropped out of the race last month.
The senior senator’s position comes at the start of the county convention season, when organization lines are awarded. So far, only Hunterdon County has awarded their line – a race where Elizabeth Warren edged out Michael Bloomberg by just four votes on the third ballot.
“We live in an increasingly polarizing country in which our national politics dominates media coverage and drives public discourse, but doesn’t necessarily reflect the concerns and priorities of New Jersey voters nor the needs and issues affecting our local communities,” the senator said.
Earlier this week, attorneys for the Bernie Sanders campaign asked state and county election officials for clarity on how ballots are will be designed for the New Jersey primary as they consider the option of bracketing with other candidates to combat organization lines.
Booker faces a primary challenge from Lawrence Hamm, a 1970s era Newark school board member who chairs Sanders’ New Jersey campaign.
Six Democratic House members from New Jersey face primary challenges from the left.