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Trading Hard Corruption for Soft Corruption

The field is now largely set for next year’s Democratic Senate primary in New Jersey. While twice-indicted incumbent Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez hasn’t yet decided on a run, he is so widely disliked in the state after the federal charges laying out alleged pay-for-play service on behalf of the Egyptian government—his favorability rating is now at a shockingly low six percent, and only nine percent even among Democrats—that he is essentially a non-factor in next June’s primary.

Two high-profile Democratic challengers—Congressman Andy Kim, and Tammy Murphy, wife of Gov. Phil Murphy—have entered the primary. (There are others in the race, but only Kim and Murphy are likely to have the money and organization for a serious run.) These candidates will have to prove to voters that they can restore some measure of ethics and integrity to that Senate seat, while presenting an agenda for economic prosperity, lower cost for necessities like energy and health care, and a foreign policy that speaks to our highest values.

Or more accurately, they have to convince five men to give them a favorable ballot position.

Beneath the dramatic, operatic corruption outlined in the recent Menendez indictment lies what has been described as the soft corruption of machine politics in New Jersey, where the whims of unelected county party chairs almost always dictate who gets into office and what policies get enacted. Many of those chairs have already sprung into action on behalf of Murphy, a former Goldman Sachs banker who has never held public office and voted in Republican primaries as recently as 2014, when her husband was Barack Obama’s appointed ambassador to Germany.

More from David Dayen

Murphy announced her candidacy one week ago. The same day, the Democratic chair in Hudson County, Menendez’s home base, endorsed Murphy. Chairs

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