TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — New Jersey first lady Tammy Murphy on Wednesday launched a bid for the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate in next year’s contest.
Her candidacy, announced Wednesday, puts her in the running to become the first woman elected to the Senate from New Jersey. The Democratic primary already features Rep. Andy Kim and could include Democratic U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez, who has lost significant party support amid federal bribery charges but has not ruled out a run in 2024.
“We need a senator who will work every single day to lower the cost of living, protect abortion rights, end the gun violence epidemic, and defend our democracy,” she said in a roughly four-minute-long video posted online.
Murphy, 58, is a constant at events alongside her husband, Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy, and has taken on maternal and infant health and the environment as her top issues during her time as first lady — issues she highlighted in her announcement.
A Virginia native, and University of Virginia graduate, Tammy Murphy worked in finance at Goldman Sachs alongside Phil Murphy before the couple settled in New Jersey. They have four children.
Democrats picked up at least five seats in the Assembly in this year’s midterm legislative elections, a boon for the governor who is in the final two years of his second term.
Those successes could translate into critical county support for the first lady, who campaigned alongside the governor to increase their party’s legislative majorities. A number of key county party chairmen set candidate ballot positions, and support from the county party frequently leads to electoral success.
Debbie Walsh, the director of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University said the system, which can often surprises political newcomers, could work to elect a woman to the Senate in this case.
“This is one individual woman who has the advantage here of being able to use the system that has been the challenge or the barrier to women’s participation. In some ways maybe that’s the way we get the first woman in the Senate, maybe that’s the breakthrough,” Walsh said.
Patricia Campos-Medina, a political activist and labor leader, said she is also considering a run on the Democratic side and that she’s heard from people that they’re concerned about the possibility of losing a Latino voice in the U. S. Senate if Menendez doesn’t return. She also said she thinks it’s a moment of worker activism and, like Tammy Murphy, an opportunity to stand up for women’s reproductive rights.
On the GOP side, Mendham Mayor Christine Serrano Glassner is also seeking the Senate seat next year. New Jersey’s primary is June 4.
Murphy is well known in New Jersey’s political circles. Before the governor’s first run for office in 2017, she worked to set up a think tank he used to showcase policy ideas. She is the honorary chair of the New Jersey Council on the Green Economy and launched Nurture NJ, an initiative aimed at boosting infant and maternal health and lowering maternal mortality, with a goal of cutting maternal mortality by 50% by 2026.
A former Republican, Tammy Murphy has spoken about growing up in a GOP-leaning area of Virginia and has previously donated to that party. She became a Democrat before her husband’s run for office.
Tammy Murphy was named in a gender discrimination lawsuit this year brought by state troopers who worked on the detail responsible for providing security for the governor. The suit alleges that Tammy Murphy denied a trooper the use of a carriage house on Murphy’s property to pump breast milk.
In a statement this week, she denied the allegations as “outrageous and categorically false.”
Menendez has pleaded not guilty to federal charges. Prosecutors have said the senator and his wife, Nadine Menendez, accepted bribes of cash, gold bars and a luxury car over the past five years from three New Jersey businessmen in exchange for a variety of corrupt acts. He’s also accused of being an unregistered agent on behalf of Egypt.
He hasn’t said whether he’ll seek reelection in 2024 but said after being indicted that he’s “not going anywhere.”
Menendez criticized Tammy Murphy in a statement Wednesday for being a “card-carrying Republicans for years” and said she’d have to answer for the policies of her husband’s administration, echoing similar attacks the GOP tried against the governor in his 2021 reelection bid.
“I’ll gladly put my record of success on behalf of the people of New Jersey against anyone,” he said.
He was first appointed to the Senate seat in 2006 after the vacancy caused by Jon Corzine’s election as governor of New Jersey. Menendez has since won three elections to the Senate.
Menendez’s indictment led to a collapse of Democratic support in the state for him.
Kim, a three-term representative from the state’s 3rd District, announced his candidacy just a day after the corruption charges against Menendez, saying he believed New Jersey deserved better. He was the first Asian American elected from New Jersey, according to the U.S. House historian’s database.
He said in a statement Wednesday that voters want someone “battle tested and proven so we don’t let Washington Republicans take back the Senate.”