The erosion of support among Latino voters is one of the more alarming signs for President Joe Biden and the Democratic Party as they face a likely rematch with former President Donald Trump in November.

Recent polls have identified the trend. Biden’s victory four years ago was fueled, in part, by capturing 65% of Latinos compared with 32% for Trump. But a recent USA TODAY/Suffolk University Poll finds Trump leading Biden among Latinos by 39% to 34%.

In September, The Washington Post found that across five well-regarded polls, Trump was averaging 42% of Hispanic voters. Analysts point to several factors — low enthusiasm among young voters, for one. And some of it is economic — working-class voters across the political spectrum might be drawn to Trump’s promise to restore the country of a pre-pandemic yesteryear when food and gas prices and interest rates were lower.

Whatever the cause, the Trump appeal — or threat — is a key reason why longtime Democratic Party activist Patricia Campos-Medina has launched her candidacy for the U.S. Senate.

Taking aim at Trump … and Tammy Murphy

The 50-year-old Hunterdon County resident and child of immigrants who fled the unrest in El Salvador in the early 1980s is convinced that the indicted Sen. Robert Menendez will not seek reelection, leaving a void on the November ballot for a crucial and loyal Democratic constituency.

“If we do not give Black and Latino voters a candidate, we will not be able to defeat Donald Trump in the next election even here in New Jersey,” she said in a recent interview.

And here is the second part of her argument for running for the Democratic nomination in this June’s primary.

She asserts that Tammy Murphy, the wife of Gov. Phil Murphy, who is also running for the seat, will fail to be a sufficient magnet to pull Latinos back into the voting booth for Democrats. The leadership of the Democratic Party, which swiftly pledged its support for the first lady in the counties with the largest caches of Democratic voters, have failed to diagnose that danger.

First lady Tammy Murphy is shown in Glen Rock, where Gov. Phil Murphy later signed a reproductive rights bill, Tuesday, October 24, 2023.

First lady Tammy Murphy is shown in Glen Rock, where Gov. Phil Murphy later signed a reproductive rights bill, Tuesday, October 24, 2023.

“I am basically very concerned that if Tammy Murphy gets coronated and gets the nomination, she will have a hard time winning against a Republican, because Democratic voters are disgusted by this inside politics,” said Campos-Medina, a former union organizer who served on transition teams for President Barack Obama and Sen. Cory Booker.

Frustration begins before the campaign even really starts

It is the sentiment — frustration over Tammy Murphy’s winning party support before others could get a chance to seek it before the nominating conventions over the next two months — that is shaping the early race to replace Menendez.

The veteran Hudson County Democrat is facing a staggering federal indictment charging him with taking bribes in the form of cash and bars of gold bullion in exchange for taking actions favorable to Egypt and Qatar, and for interceding in two criminal prosecutions in New Jersey.

Menendez, who was charged in the alleged scheme along with his wife, Nadine Arslanian Menendez, says he’s innocent of the charges and vows to fight them in court. He also has not said whether he will seek another term this year, but a poll showed him with a dismal 6% approval rating from Democrats. A trial is scheduled for May, although Menendez and his wife are seeking to be tried separately.

The unsealing of the Menendez indictment in late September uncorked a range of ambitious Democrats to announce plans to succeed them, including Rep. Andy Kim, a three-term South Jersey congressman, Lawrence Hamm, a veteran Essex County social activist, and Murphy, who announced in November.

Rep. Andy Kim (D-NJ), speaks during the Bergen County unity rally at Overpeck County Park on Sunday, May 16, 2021, in Leonia. Hundreds gathered to discuss the racism facing Asian Americans and to show support and unity.Rep. Andy Kim (D-NJ), speaks during the Bergen County unity rally at Overpeck County Park on Sunday, May 16, 2021, in Leonia. Hundreds gathered to discuss the racism facing Asian Americans and to show support and unity.

Rep. Andy Kim (D-NJ), speaks during the Bergen County unity rally at Overpeck County Park on Sunday, May 16, 2021, in Leonia. Hundreds gathered to discuss the racism facing Asian Americans and to show support and unity.

But it was the instant pledge of support from county chairmen in Essex, Middlesex, Somerset, Bergen and Menendez’s home county of Hudson that turned the first lady with a thin resume and a past pedigree as a registered Republican into the odds-on favorite to capture the Democratic nomination.

More Charlie Stile: Andy Kim must outflank Tammy Murphy — and the NJ ballot ‘line.’ Can he succeed?

New Jersey’s party line is a factor, too

That kind of institutional support typically translates into the candidate’s being awarded the party “line,” or preferred ballot bracketing with other organization-blessed candidates. Candidates who are conferred the line usually win.

And that’s the heart of the matter. At a time when many think democracy is on the ropes, a quick closing of ranks around the first lady — without letting others compete and make their case — strikes many as anti-democratic and an exercise in dynastic cronyism.

Among the county leaders endorsing Tammy Murphy are lobbyists whose firms have business before the state. And for others, there is no upside in denying the governor’s wife their blessing while he remains in power for two more years. Murphy can still command the fate of valuable legislative pork, appointments and legislation even as a lame duck.

Kim, a former national security aide to Obama, is trying to tap the internal party discontent even though he is likely to find himself in a remote, long-odds spot on the ballot. Still, there are indications that the backlash over Tammy Murphy is real: Internal polls for the Kim campaign have shown a wide lead, and Kim defeated Murphy by 2-to-1 in a straw poll conducted by the Monmouth County Democrats in December.

Campos-Medina is seeking to harness the same grassroots anger.

“I felt that that is an overreach of power by the Murphys,” she said. The governor and allies have insisted that he has had no role in lining up support for his wife and that Tammy Murphy’s support so far derives from her activism on maternal health and climate change and as party-building role as a fundraiser.

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‘A daughter of the working class’

Campos-Medina has her own compelling biography. She was separated from her parents, who fled the war that plagued her native El Salvador in the late 1970s and ’80s. She was reunited in the U.S. with her parents at age 14. Her mother was a housekeeper and her father was a janitor.

“Some union leaders are claiming we need a progressive woman of color Latina to jump in the race,” said Campos-Medina, a longtime labor activist who went to Cornell on a scholarship and later received a doctorate from Rutgers University. “I am the daughter of the working class.”

Her portfolio of progressive activism in New Jersey is extensive. She is president of Latina Civic, which promotes economic and equity policies, and is a board member at New Jersey Citizen Action and the Latino Action Network. Also, she is on leave from her job as executive director of the Worker Institute at Cornell, which conducts research on contemporary labor issues.

Campos-Medina said she would be suited to be the “heir” to Menendez, whom she “wishes well” but who she said can no longer effectively lead. (She does not anticipate his running for reelection.) She said she would be a voice for the working class, women and Latinos, especially now that immigration reform has leaped back to the forefront of the national agenda.

“I feel it’s time to move on from Senator Menendez’s leadership,” she said. “There has to be a choice for New Jersey voters that includes a woman of color and a Latina on the race. And then we should just not accept the overreach of Tammy Murphy by letting the party forces just give her the seat.”

Despite the political forces arrayed against her — and the significant fundraising advantage of Murphy and Kim — Campos-Medina vows to compete for the support of county committee members across the state despite her long opposition to the ballot line, which, she argues, protects incumbents at the expense of women and candidates of color.

That argument has not had much resonance in the past. But then again, there hasn’t been the threat of a Trump restoration hanging over the party. That has stirred worries about the party’s appeal to its loyal base.

And there has not been a governor’s wife aggressively pursuing a U.S. Senate seat. That has stirred a lot of party anger. And hope for an upset.

Charlie Stile is a veteran New Jersey political columnist. For unlimited access to his unique insights into New Jersey’s political power structure and his powerful watchdog work, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.

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This article originally appeared on Patricia Campos-Medina aims to give NJ Black, Latino voters candidate

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