- Associated Press - Monday, December 4, 2017

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) - Democratic U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez, whose federal corruption trial recently ended in a hung jury, could be facing his first primary challenger if he seeks re-election next year.

Jersey City attorney and cable TV contributor Michael Starr Hopkins said in an op-ed on Monday that he is considering challenging Menendez. He said Menendez’s trial led him to consider a primary challenge and the state deserves someone who hasn’t been “tainted by the culture of corruption.”

“The senator may have narrowly evaded prison with a mistrial, but voters aren’t going to forget what he’s done,” Starr Hopkins wrote.

Menendez denied charges that he helped his friend Salomon Melgen, a Florida eye doctor, with billing claims in exchange for lavish vacations. Prosecutors have not indicated if they’ll retry the case. Menendez has sought to have the charges dismissed.

Prosecutors alleged Menendez and Melgen engaged in the bribery scheme between 2006 and 2013, but the men said any gifts exchanged between them stemmed from their longtime friendship.

About 50 percent of New Jersey voters said in a poll released in September that Menendez did not deserve re-election, and only 31 percent approved of the job he was doing. The Quinnipiac University poll surveyed 1,121 people and had a margin of error of 4 percentage points.

While the four-year criminal investigation dragged down Menendez’s popularity, it hasn’t stopped Menendez from raising money and keeping the support of elected Democrats in the state and beyond.

Menendez has raised more than $6 million for a legal defense fund and for his 2018 re-election campaign since he was indicted in April 2015. He raised $2.5 million for his re-election from January through September of this year and had $3.9 million in his campaign account.

Menendez’s senior political adviser Mike Soliman said the two-term incumbent will decide in the coming weeks whether to seek a third term but all signs are that he will run.

Soliman declined to comment on Starr Hopkins’ potential run.

Menendez, who blasted federal authorities for bringing the case against him, has the support of the state’s Democratic officials, including Gov.-elect Phil Murphy.

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