New Jersey's governor-elect, Jon S. Corzine, plans to select Rep. Robert Menendez, a fellow Democrat, to fill the Senate opening created by Corzine's victory last month, Democratic congressional aides said yesterday.
They said the announcement could come as early as today. Menendez would serve out the final year of Corzine's Senate term and run for a six-year term next November. Menendez, 51, a seven-term House member and Democratic leader, has amassed a $4.1 million war chest that he could use to run for a full Senate term.
"He is going to make a great senator and is going to get elected next November," said Rep. William J. Pascrell Jr. (D-N.J.), who endorsed Menendez for Senate earlier this week.
If Menendez is picked by Corzine, he will become the first Latino representing New Jersey to hold a Senate seat. Menendez's ascension would also create an opening in northern New Jersey's 13th Congressional District, a Democratic stronghold.
In a state known for its rough-and-tumble politics, the jockeying to be Corzine's replacement has been heated.
Some Democratic leaders favored acting Gov. Richard J. Codey for the post, but he took himself out of the running just before Thanksgiving, saying he needed a break.
Attention immediately shifted to Menendez, who made no secret of his desire for Corzine's vacant seat. Numerous Hispanic groups urged Corzine to select Menendez, who is the son of Cuban immigrants. Pascrell and Rep. Steven R. Rothman (D-N.J.) threw their support behind Menendez.
The likely choice of Menendez could lead to a contentious Democratic primary contest next year if New Jersey Democratic Reps. Robert E. Andrews, Rush D. Holt and Frank Pallone Jr. -- all of whom have expressed an interest in the Senate race -- decide to challenge him. Andrews and Pallone have said they would consider a primary challenge next year, although neither could be reached to comment yesterday. Pascrell said he expects that Corzine and Menendez would sit down with those who were passed over and "reach a reasonable agreement" about the primary.
Dan Ronayne, a spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said choosing Menendez would be a recruiting failure for Senate Democrats. "After being turned down by Governor Codey, the Democrat political machine in New Jersey seemed to have a lot of trouble figuring out which of the remaining candidates was the least flawed," he said.
Republicans have unified behind state Sen. Thomas H. Kean Jr., whose father is a popular former governor of the state and chairman of the commission that investigated the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.