Menendez Mistrial Is a Relief to Democrats -- for Now

Menendez Mistrial Is a Relief to Democrats -- for Now

The bribery trial of New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez ended in a mistrial on Thursday, quelling Democrats’ fears about an open Senate seat being filled by a Republican.

If Menendez, a Democrat who was indicted on 18 counts of corruption, had been convicted and subsequently resigned or been expelled before January 16, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie would have had the authority to appoint a senator to serve in his place until December 2018.

Presumably, Christie would have appointed a Republican to the position (some speculated that he might have even appointed himself), tilting the balance of power to GOP even further: As Vox recently reported, a 53rd Republican senator would have the potential to breathe new life into the Obamacare repeal effort.

If Menendez is retried and found guilty, his resignation or expulsion would be less daunting for Democrats. After Democrat Phil Murphy is sworn in as the state’s new governor this January, the responsibility of appointing a replacement for Menendez would fall into his hands.

Menendez was indicted on bribery and conspiracy charges: He allegedly used his position to protect the business interests of a friend, Salomon Melgen, a wealthy Florida doctor, in exchange for gifts and campaign contributions.

If this trial was any indication, a second trial could be a lengthy one. Menendez was indicted in 2015, but the case did not go to trial until September of this year. Earlier this month, a juror left for a long-scheduled vacation during the deliberations. The judge replaced her and the deliberations restarted this week. Soon afterward, the jurors announced that they were deadlocked.

Menendez is still up for reelection in 2018, but this scandal could weaken his chances of winning. According to a September Quinnipiac University poll, half of New Jersey voters believe that he should not be re-elected. His approval rating had also dropped to 31 percent.

But in October, he told CNN that he was confident he would be acquitted and that his poll numbers would improve as a result.  "I have no intention of being anything but exonerated," Menendez said. "So therefore, I'm not contemplating anything but reelection next year."

If he does decide to run, a handful of the state’s Democratic leaders, including Murphy, have pledged that they would throw their support behind him.