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Rob Menendez’s Family Name Fueled His Rise. Will It Also Be His Undoing?

The question at a recent candidate forum was simple enough. What would you do to help move New Jersey past its notorious culture of cronyism and corruption?

But for Representative Rob Menendez, answering it required some revealing rhetorical acrobatics. While he agreed that corruption was “definitely something we are challenged with here,” he conspicuously avoided the one case that has transfixed his home state for months: the indictment of Senator Robert Menendez, his father.

The sweeping bribery charges, involving gold bars and piles of cash, have already likely ended the senator’s storied political career. Now, his son is scrambling to make sure his House seat does not become the next casualty as he stares down a serious primary threat in June.

Representative Menendez, 38, has not been accused of wrongdoing and is not implicated in the case. But his chief opponent, Mayor Ravi Bhalla of Hoboken, has turned the Democrat-on-Democrat race into a referendum on the Menendez family and on New Jersey’s machine-style politics, betting the name that helped fuel the congressman’s rapid ascent may also be his downfall.

The timing could scarcely be worse for the Menendezes. The final days of the primary are playing out at the same time that Senator Menendez, 70, is on trial in Manhattan, generating damaging daily headlines just across the Hudson River from his son’s district.

Internal polls show a statistical dead heat.

“It’s a real problem for Junior,” said Albio Sires, an ally who held the congressional seat for 16 years between the elder Menendez, who served in the House before joining the Senate, and his son. “Unfortunately, his father’s caught up in this stuff, and people are trying to paint him with the same brush.”

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