New Jersey first lady Tammy Murphy drops Senate bid

New Jersey first lady Tammy Murphy announced Sunday that she’ll withdraw from the Democratic Senate primary, likely paving the way for Democratic Rep. Andy Kim to secure the nomination.

“After many busy, invigorating and, yes, challenging months, I am suspending my Senate campaign today,” Murphy said in a video posted to social media.

“I’ve been genuine and factual throughout,” she continued. “But it is clear to me that continuing in this race will involve waging a very divisive and negative campaign, which I am not willing to do.”

“I’m making this decision because this campaign has never been about me. And right now, I know the best thing we can do for New Jersey is to unite and focus on the real issues at hand,” she added.

Murphy did not endorse Kim in the three-minute video.

Kim called Murphy “a voice for progress and public service in our state” in a statement obtained by NBC News after Murphy’s announcement.

“Tammy and I both agree that it is critical that we keep this seat, and the Senate, in Democratic control,” Kim added. “Unity is vital. We will continue our efforts to strengthen our democracy in New Jersey while we come together to stand up against the dangerous agenda pushed by Trump.”

Murphy made the decision after she and her advisers concluded that her path to victory in the June 4th Democratic primary was limited, even unwinnable, a source close to the Murphy campaign told NBC News. Her announcement came on the eve of the state’s primary filing deadline.

But Murphy maintained in conversations Sunday with campaign staff, party leaders and supporters that her campaign still had a path forward, but that would have involved spending a large amount of money against a fellow Democrat, according to a source familiar with those conversations.

Murphy said such a divisive primary could hurt the party this year and moving forward, with New Jersey will host an open race for governor next year, the source added. Her husband cannot seek another term due to term limits.

The first lady’s campaign drew some criticism, with many frustrated by the optics of her husband, Gov. Phil Murphy, pushing his wife’s candidacy. That, combined with Kim decisively winning against Murphy in several county conventions this month, proved to be the fatal blow to her candidacy.

Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop said in a statement this week that he had made a mistake when he endorsed Murphy several months prior.

“It’s no secret I’ve been disappointed with the campaign and how it has been conducted,” Fulop said. “It’s clear to me that I was wrong with my early support and endorsement of Tammy Murphy for Senate.”

Murphy and Kim both launched their campaigns for Senate in the fall, seeking to replace Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez, who along with his wife faces federal charges for allegedly obstructing justice and taking bribes.

The first indictment was announced in September, and they have since been hit with additional charges, bringing the total to 18. Both have denied any wrongdoing.

Menendez has not officially announced whether he’ll run for re-election, but he ha s teased running as an independent, saying, “I am hopeful that my exoneration will take place this summer and allow me to pursue my candidacy as an independent Democrat in the general election.”

That race has been consumed by New Jersey’s unique ballot design known as the “county line,” in which candidates endorsed by county parties are given advantageous positions on ballots. Critics say gives a few county party chairs significant power over the primary, especially in counties where the endorsement is left solely up to the chair.

Kim had won the county line in several counties where the endorsement is decided at a convention county, but Murphy had racked up endorsements from a number of those powerful county party chairs. That would have given Murphy a preferred ballot position in some of the counties with the largest share of registered Democrats.

Kim then filed a lawsuit in federal court seeking to eliminate the county line, and he testified as a witness last week.

“The whole point of democracy is to give the people a choice and be able to have the decision made by the people,” Kim said on the witness stand Monday. “But if you are limiting that or if there are elements … I find that to be adverse to the pursuit of democracy I believe in of fairness and equality.”

Murphy, meanwhile, was frustrated that the process was dominating the race.

“We’re all playing by the same rules. So if the rules get better, if they can reform and make things better, then I’m all for that,” Murphy said last Sunday.

“But my view is — that’s over here,” Murphy added. “I’m trying to help with affordability. I’m trying to help with reproductive freedoms. I’m trying to help with gun safety and climate change. And I think that’s what people really think about every single day. So I am sick of hearing about the process.” 

Kim did not directly address his lawsuit in his statement on Sunday, but Kim’s senior adviser Anthony DeAngelo said in a statement to NBC News that Kim “strongly believes that New Jersey should more to a fair, office block ballot system.”

“The status of our injunction remains in the hands of the judge and we remain ready to strongly advocate for the changes the Congressman and so many others have called for,” DeAngelo later added.

Whoever wins the Democratic nomination is likely to be elected to the Senate in November, with the nonpartisan Cook Political Report with Amy Walter rating the race as “Likely Democratic.”

Alexandra Marquez

Alexandra Marquez is a politics reporter for NBC News.

Julie Tsirkin

Julie Tsirkin is a correspondent covering Capitol Hill.

Bridget Bowman

Bridget Bowman is a national political reporter for NBC News.

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