Sunday, June 23, 2024

Tammy Murphy, the wife of Gov. Philip D. Murphy of New Jersey, announced on Wednesday that she was running as a Democrat for the U.S. Senate seat now held by the state’s embattled senior senator, Robert Menendez, who has been charged with accepting bribes.Ms. Murphy, 58, is a first-time candidate for public office who describes herself on tax forms as a homemaker. During her husband’s six years as governor, she has been an active first lady who has worked to improve the state’s high rates of maternal and infant mortality and to expand instruction about climate change in public schools. Before she and Mr. Murphy married, 30 years ago, Ms. Murphy worked as a financial analyst, and she has since volunteered on nonprofit and philanthropic boards. Ms. Murphy has been preparing for more than a month to run for the Senate, and she announced her candidacy on Wednesday with the release of a nearly four-minute video. “We owe it to our kids to do better,” she says, speaking directly to the camera and presenting herself primarily as a mother of four who, when given the chance, used her platform as first lady to advocate for improved pregnancy outcomes.

“Right now, Washington is filled with too many people more interested in getting rich or getting on camera,” she says as a photo of Mr. Menendez flashes in the background, “than getting things done for you.”

Ms. Murphy already has at least two Democratic primary opponents: Representative Andy Kim, who has represented South Jersey in Congress since 2019, and Larry Hamm, a political activist and second-time Senate candidate who leads the People’s Organization for Progress. Patricia Campos-Medina, a left-leaning labor leader who runs the Worker Institute at Cornell University, said on Tuesday that she was also preparing to enter the race.

Mr. Menendez has pleaded not guilty to federal charges of bribery and plotting to be an agent of Egypt, and he has said that he will not resign from the Senate. He has not ruled out seeking re-election, but if he does compete for the Democratic nomination, he will face several practical challenges. A federal judge has scheduled his trial to start a month before the June primary, and he has been abandoned by nearly every leading Democrat in the state, including Mr. Murphy, leaving him an extremely difficult path to victory.

Mr. Menendez said Ms. Murphy’s entry into the race proved that the governor, who was among the first officials to call for his resignation, had a “personal, vested interest” in doing so.

“They believe they have to answer to nobody,” Mr. Menendez said about the Murphys in a written statement. “But I am confident that the people of New Jersey will push back against this blatant maneuver at disenfranchisement.”

Ms. Murphy, in Wednesday’s video, called her role as New Jersey’s first lady the “honor of my life.” But she has also earned a reputation as an aggressive campaign fund-raiser and now has seven months to introduce herself to voters as a candidate in her own right.

She is running as a Democrat for one of the most coveted political prizes in the country yet is a relative newcomer to the party. Voting records show she regularly voted in Republican primaries until 2014, three years before her husband was elected governor of a state where Democrats outnumber Republicans by nearly one million voters. Ms. Murphy continued to vote in Republican primaries even while Mr. Murphy served as finance chairman of the Democratic National Committee and as the ambassador to Germany, appointed by former President Barack Obama. She declined an interview request, and her aides have refused to discuss her reasons for changing parties as a 49-year-old.

But Mr. Kim said Ms. Murphy’s voting history raised valid questions, particularly in a Democratic primary.

“I think she needs to explain that,” Mr. Kim, 41, said Monday in an interview.

Mr. Menendez also took a swipe at the first lady’s changed party affiliation.

“While Tammy Murphy was a card-carrying Republican for years,” he said, “I was working to elect Democrats up and down the ballot.”

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