Sep 26, 2023 - Politics & Policy

Exclusive: New Jersey first lady Tammy Murphy warms to Senate run

New Jersey first lady Tammy Murphy speaks as Gov. Phil Murphy is sworn in for his second term last year. Photo: Tayfun Coskun via Getty Images

New Jersey first lady Tammy Murphy is "seriously considering a run" for the seat held by embattled Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), a source close to her tells Axios.

Why it matters: Murphy is a formidable fundraiser and political force who would help Democrats hold the seat in 2024, when the national party will be scrambling to retain its bare Senate majority. So her pitch is one of electability, as well as financial and policy chops.

What's happening: Murphy and her husband, Gov. Phil Murphy (D), are receiving a wave of entreaties from throughout the Garden State and from Washington, top operatives tell us.

  • She's warming to the idea and is already setting up coffees to explore a run, sources say.
  • But the source close to Murphy tells Axios she won't decide until after New Jersey's legislative elections in November when Democrats are trying to hold onto thin majorities in both chambers.

Between the lines: Although she won't make an announcement until after November's elections, a prospective campaign could begin doing due diligence.

Context: Murphy, 58, has been an unusually visible and activist first lady — essentially a full-time volunteer who has built a record of expanding infant and maternal health care, as well as climate-change education.

  • She also has worked to empower women entrepreneurs.
  • Of a potential run, one Murphy adviser told me: "The secret weapon won't be so secret."

Murphy was finance chair of her husband's re-election campaign in 2021. She traveled the country when he was chair of the National Governors Association, ending last July.

  • She's also a board member of The Climate Reality Project, founded by former Vice President Al Gore.

The intrigue: The governor would appoint a successor if Menendez were to yield to rising demands for his resignation following his indictment last week on bribery charges. Sen. Cory Booker (D), the other U.S. senator from New Jersey, joined the list today.

  • Murphy could name the first lady to the job. But many Democrats in the state expect Menendez to hold on, in part to make it easier to raise money for a legal defense fund.
  • But if Menendez caves, the first lady could be in an awkward position — whether she's appointed by her husband or running against her husband's appointee.
  • Menendez is up for re-election next year and is already expected to face a primary challenge from Rep. Andy Kim when he's up for re-election next year in what could become a crowded race.

The Murphys have four children and live in a riverfront home in Monmouth County.

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