Kim wins another NJ Dem convention for Senate, but numbers still good for Murphy

Rep. Andy Kim won his seventh Democratic Party county convention on Monday, continuing his dominance over first lady Tammy Murphy at conventions — especially those where delegates are free to vote by secret ballot — as they both seek to replace Sen. Bob Menendez.

But despite his popularity with rank-and-file Democrats, Kim still faces an uphill battle in the fight for endorsements that dictate how primary ballots are designed — and which candidate gets preferential placement. The counties he’s won so far are home to less than a fifth of New Jersey’s 2.5 million registered Democrats — and Murphy’s lined up endorsements in several large counties without a single delegate vote.

Kim received 236 votes to Murphy’s 108, giving him Mercer’s sole endorsement. Mercer County awards any candidate with more than 40% of the vote a shared endorsement, but Murphy missed the mark with only 29% of the total votes cast.

Patricia Campos Medina got 22 votes and Larry Hamm received 8 votes.

Kim has won seven of the eight county conventions where delegates voted by secret ballot — taking victories in Monmouth, Hunterdon, Ocean, Sussex, Mercer, Burlington and Warren counties.

The governor’s wife won her only secret ballot vote to date in Bergen County, where Kim says party leaders made it difficult for him to meet with members, though a county committee spokesperson denied that allegation. The county boss in Bergen, Paul Juliano, is a close ally of Gov. Phil Murphy with a lucrative state appointment who lobbied members extensively for the first lady.

Murphy also took wins in Passaic, Union and Somerset counties. Passaic and Union counties only allow their leaderships to vote, and Somerset required its members to vote in full view of the party boss, who lobbied extensively for delegates to vote for Murphy.

The candidates are battling for endorsements because in 19 of 21 counties in New Jersey, the party runs a slate of candidates in the primary on the “county line” — grouping them in a single row or column on primary ballots, and giving voters an impression of greater legitimacy. President Joe Biden will be listed at the top of the line this year. Tammy Murphy received personal endorsements from the party chairs in eight counties within a week of announcing she would run for the Senate.

Kim and Murphy are running for the seat held by Menendez, who was indicted in September on charges of corruption, bribery and unregistered lobbying for a foreign government. Menendez, hasn’t said if he’ll pursue re-election but has yet to participate in any county party convention to date.

Kim has made an issue of corruption and the county line, and has filed a lawsuit to stop the preferential placement on the ballot.

“I am here, standing before you, not just as a candidate for Senate, not just as a three-term member of the House of Representatives, but as the father of a 6-year-old individual, terrified about what kind of America they’re going to grow up in,” Kim told the Mercer County delegates. “Now is such a critical time for us to step up.”

Murphy’s speech began with a reminder that she has often come to Mercer County, which is home to the state capitol.

“Where Trenton goes, so goes the county, so goes our state,” Murphy told the delegates. “I have worshiped in the faith community. I’ve been to the Henry J. Austin Center [a community-based health center], visiting with moms. I’ve got a family festival here in Trenton. Importantly, I selected Trenton to be the home of the Infant and Maternal Innovation Health Center.”

The Democratic political machines are strongest in the counties with the largest number of Democratic voters, largely because the chairs of the party committees are able to use their large number of voters as bargaining chips. They can use the county line on their ballots, and their large organizations of volunteers, to turn out votes.

Despite Kim’s convincing wins in most conventions held so far, and his lead in a February poll, he still trails behind Murphy in the endorsement game by several important measures. The counties where Kim has so far received party endorsements represent 19% of registered Democrats in the state, while Murphy has already racked up endorsements in counties with 26% of Democrats.

And that number does not include the counties where votes are not held at all, and Murphy has received the endorsements of the local county party boss. Those counties — Essex, Middlesex, Hudson and Camden — are home to 38% of the registered Democrats in the state but delegates aren’t allowed to weigh in.

In Mercer, not only were members allowed to vote by secret ballot, but there was no endorsement made by the Mercer County Democratic Committee chairwoman.

“Mercer County has the best Democratic committee in New Jersey,” Janice Mironov, the committee chair, told the delegates.

Next, the report on the rules for the meeting were explained and using Robert’s Rules of Order, the membership voted to accept the rules.

It was a change from the scenes that played out at some other county conventions.

Party leaders in Hunterdon County tried to change the rules at the last minute to let anyone with at least 30% of the vote share the county line. That caused an uproar from the floor and a fight over whether the membership could challenge the party boss, ultimately defeating the rule change. Kim won that vote with 62% to Murphy’s 30%.

Party members in Somerset County tried to get a vote from the floor on whether they could vote by secret ballot, and the party boss batted the rebels away, requiring members to vote by raising green cards.

In Bergen, alternate and bonus delegates were allowed to vote.

Cape May County Democrats also held their convention on Monday evening, but the leadership decided not to offer an endorsement. That usually happens when chairs of the county committees think their preferred candidates will lose the vote, according to Micah Rasmussen, director of the Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics.

“[Murphy] spent the weekend in Cape May, so was clearly making a play there. If she had the votes, they’d have endorsed,” Rasmussen said. “This was a twin disappointment for Tammy Murphy. Her side clearly thought they had a shot in Mercer and they mobilized to hit that 40% mark, and did not reach it.”

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