The 2024 race may end up being one of the most competitive, with one of the largest fields, in state party history

Among the more intriguing U.S. Senate races involving incumbents this cycle is the Democratic primary contest in New Jersey, where the party might see its second largest field in history.

Embattled U.S. Senator Bob Menendez has publicly maintained he will still seek reelection to a fourth full term despite facing federal bribery charges (and very low support in horse race polls) and has until March 25th to file in advance of the state’s June 4th primary.

Meanwhile, establishment Democrats are rallying behind the state’s First Lady Tammy Murphy (pictured) to take on three-term U.S. Representative Andy Kim.

The Murray vs. Kim matchup – along with the (theoretical) Menendez candidacy and several other lesser-known candidates appearing on the ballot – sets up the New Jersey Democratic U.S. Senate primary to be one of its most competitive in party history.

Over the last 100+ years since the first primary for the office in 1916, only three of the 41 Democratic nominating contests were decided by single digits and only five by less than 20 points.

The only competitive races took place in:

  • 1918: Former Commissioner of Banking and Insurance George LaMonte edged Hudson County Assemblyman Alex Simpson by 1.0 point
  • 1958: Former two-term U.S. Representative Harrison Williams defeated Hoboken Mayor John Grogan by 3.6 points
  • 1982: New York/New Jersey Port Authority Commissioner Frank Lautenberg beat former three-term U.S. Representative Gene Maguire by 2.9 points

Former one-term U.S. Representative Paul Krebs’ 15.6-point victory over populist advertising executive Dan Gaby in 1972 and former Goldman Sachs CEO Jon Corzine’s 16-point win against former Governor and U.S. Representative Jim Florio in 2000 are the only other Democratic contests with victory margins of less than 20 points.

The potential for a competitive race in 2024 along with the likelihood that at least five candidates will be on the ballot also increases the chances for a rare plurality winner for the Democratic U.S. Senate nomination. That has also happened in just five of 41 contests:

  • 1916: U.S. Senator James Martine won 48.8 percent in a four-candidate field
  • 1918: George LaMonte won 27.7 percent in a four-candidate field
  • 1958: Harrison Williams received 43.1 percent in a three-candidate field
  • 1972: Paul Krebs won 43.2 percent in a four-candidate field
  • 1982: Frank Lautenberg received 26.0 percent in a 10-candidate field

New Jersey Democratic U.S. Senate primaries have given the voters the choice of more than four candidates in just three cycles: five in 1966 (won by former Middlesex County prosecutor Warren Wilentz), six in 1978 (ex-NBA star Bill Bradley), and 10 in 1982 (Lautenberg).

An average of 2.1 candidates ran in Democratic primaries for the office since 1916 with 20 of the 41 victors winning unopposed: Charles O’Connor Hennessey (1918 special), Edward Edwards (1922, 1928), Frederick Donnelly (1924), Alexander Simpson (1930), Thelma Parkinson (1930 special), Percy Stewart (1932 special), A. Harry Moore (1934), William Ely (1938 special), William Smathers (1942), Elmer Wene (1944 special), George Brunner (1946), Archibald Alexander (1948, 1952), Charles Howell (1954), Harrison Williams (1964), Robert Torricelli (1996, 2002), Bob Menendez (2012), and Cory Booker (2014).

Prior to 2024, only five of the 69 candidates to appear on a New Jersey Democratic primary ballot were women:

  • 1930 (special): Cumberland County Tax Board member Thelma Parkinson (nominated unopposed)
  • 1982: Merced County Commissioner and eventual Princeton Mayor Barbara Boggs Sigmund (11.3 percent, fourth of 10 candidates)
  • 1994: Lyndon LaRouche-ite Lynne Speed (5.1 percent, last of three candidates)
  • 2013 (special): State Assemblywoman and eventual Lieutenant Governor Sheila Oliver (4.3 percent, last of four candidates)
  • 2018: Union County community newspaper publisher Lisa McCormick (37.7 percent, last in a two-candidate race)

In addition to Murphy, the 2024 primary ballot is also poised to have the name of a second woman candidate – progressive labor leader Patricia Campos-Medina, who is campaigning to the left of Rep. Kim and the First Lady.

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  1. Cecil Crusher on January 30, 2024 at 12:07 pm

    2013: “…eventual ‘Governor Lynne Oliver'”?? (Ms. Oliver _did_ serve as Director of the state Department of Community Affairs; RIP)

    At least as noteworthy as the number of aspirants are the # of times the primary contender with the most ‘county line’ positions have fared in terms of wins and losses. For this contest, ex-Republican T Murphy is expected to receive the bulk of the purportedly favored position on the primary ballot.

    • Dr. Eric Ostermeier on January 30, 2024 at 2:02 pm

      Oh my – *Lieutenant* Governor Sheila Oliver, that is. Thank you for catching that omission!

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