Menendez, a former representative who was appointed senator in January by Gov. Jon Corzine, beat state Sen. Tom Kean Jr., R-N.J. The son of Cuban immigrants, Menendez is the first minority to be elected to a state-wide office in New Jersey.
“This race for the United State Senate is about changing the direction of America and moving it in a much different and better direction than George W. Bush has taken us over the last six years,” Menendez told the Associated Press.
Most polls leading up to the election showed Menendez with an edge of between 5 and 10 percentage points, but the race remained extremely tight. In a state that hasn’t elected a Republican senator since 1972, it was an unusual situation that gave Republicans their only hope of unseating a Democratic senator.
With so much at stake in this race, the national parties poured more than $7.5 million into the New Jersey campaigns over the past month to fund advertising.
Menendez had the advantage of being a well-backed incumbent, but suffered under continuous accusations from his opponent of ties to government corruption.
“He is enriching himself off public service and therefore has betrayed the public trust,” Kean, the son of popular former New Jersey Gov. Thomas Kean, told Reuters.
Kean repeated the claim that Menendez was under federal investigation for corruption throughout the campaign in ads and speeches. Menendez called it the most vicious campaign he ever witnessed and denied the accusations.
Menendez focused his campaign on the war in Iraq and highlighting his track record of voting against the war and in favor of a planned pullout of U.S. troops.
“I voted against the war at a time in which it was not popular to do so,” Menendez told the Philadelphia Inquirer. “And I didn’t need a poll to tell me that it was the right thing to do.”