Home » Chaos Erupts At New Jersey Democrats Event Amid Fears Of Meddling In Senate Primary

Chaos Erupts At New Jersey Democrats Event Amid Fears Of Meddling In Senate Primary

FLEMINGTON, N.J. – U.S. Rep. Andy Kim (D-N.J.) won the endorsement of the Hunterdon County Democratic Committee for his Senate campaign on Sunday, but not before a bit of party insider hijinks threatened to derail proceedings with allegations of favoritism toward Kim’s chief rival, New Jersey first lady Tammy Murphy.

The endorsements of county parties are highly sought after in New Jersey because of the Garden State’s unique insider system, where county party endorsements determine who gets the coveted “ballot line” in a party primary. Getting “the line,” as it’s known, means that voters see the candidate’s name first on the ballot — an advantage for candidates among lower-information voters in particular.

Going into the Hunterdon County Democratic Committee’s convention vote on Sunday, Kim was the oddsmakers’ favorite to pick up the county party’s endorsement over Murphy. Kim, Murphy, labor activist Dr. Patricia Campos-Medina and civil rights advocate Larry Hamm are all vying for the chance to unseat federally indicted Sen. Robert Menendez in New Jersey’s June primary.

Before the 189 delegates present at the convention had a chance to cast their secret ballots, however, Arlene Quiñones Perez, chair of the Hunterdon County Democratic Committee, announced that any candidate who reached the 30% threshold would be able to qualify for “the line.” The announcement was met with loud boos from the crowd’s many Kim supporters.

Quiñones Perez framed the decision as an effort to heed Kim, Hamm and Campos-Medina’s calls to get rid of the county ballot line system altogether.

“We have … heard from the Senate candidates that they want an open primary,” Quiñones Perez said. “And we’ve heard from a great many of you that you want the same thing.”

“If you meet 30%, we think that is a reasonable number,” she added by way of explaining the threshold.

In fact, Kim, Campos-Medina and Hamm’s letter to county party chairs earlier this month called for the chairs to contact their county clerk and state legislators and request an “office block ballot arrangement for all competitive elections in this primary.” In other words, a ballot where no candidate gets a preferential “line.”

Murphy, first lady of New Jersey, would have gotten to share the ballot line with Kim if the Hunterdon County Democratic Committee chair’s proposal had succeeded.

Ira L. Black/Corbis/Getty Images

The candidates made it clear though that they saw this as an advocacy effort to remove favoritism across the state, not to unilaterally decide that within each county Democratic Party’s contest.

“We reaffirm our previously stated commitment and support for an office block ballot statewide, irrespective of the outcomes of any upcoming county conventions and ask you to do the same,” the candidates wrote in the letter.

Amid the howling over Quiñones Perez’s proposal, she offered the assembled convention delegates the opportunity to appeal her decision, which they promptly did by voice vote.

Kim received 62% of the vote, Murphy 33% and Campos-Medina 5%.

Speaking to reporters after the vote, Kim called the attempt at a last-minute rule change “insane.”

He noted that their proposal was not even for a countywide “office block ballot,” because it did not grant parity for all candidates regardless of their performance at the county party convention.

Kim suggested that those rules were designed to benefit Murphy.

“They were trying for a shared ballot to have a threshold that seems suspiciously close to what the final count would have been to make a difference,” he said.

Quiñones Perez has ties to Murphy and her husband, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D), that support the idea that she was trying to put her thumb on the scale for Tammy Murphy. Quiñones Perez was among a select group of county party chairs that the Murphys convened to talk strategy two weeks ago after Tammy Murphy lost the Democratic endorsement in Monmouth County where she lives, according to the New Jersey Globe.

Kim has accused Murphy of leveraging her husband’s power to cut deals with party power brokers to advance her candidacy.

After the vote on Sunday, Murphy denied that she had pushed for the rule change but conceded that she had heard about it prior and spoke positively about Quiñones Perez’s rationale for making it.

“They were trying to find an equitable way to be responsible,” she said. “And I don’t know, I thought it actually might have made sense, but I don’t know.”


February 2024