The former Union City mayor, who currently lives in Hoboken, won the primary by soundly defeating Democratic challenger Steven Fulop, a political newcomer who had been put up by the position by late Jersey City Mayor Glenn Cunningham. Cunningham had been at odds with Menendez and his political backers for some time.
Menendez will now face Republican challenger Richard W. Piatkowski in November.
With 98 percent of the precincts reporting in the district, Menendez received 26,610 votes while Fulop received 4,165 votes. In Menendez's hometown of Union City, he received 7,098 votes, whereas Fulop received 279.
Other winners were those running on the Menendez slate known as the "A Team." Incumbents Joseph Cassidy, the county sherrif, and Donald DeLeo, the county surrogate, will run in November. Cassidy defeated West New York Police Officer Richard Rivera 31,520 to 6,240. DeLeo beat John Caufield 31,605 to 5,968.
Another election involving Union City was the race for the Freeholder seat in the Sixth District. Union City resident Tilo Rivas won 6,219 votes while challenger Jose Falto of Union City got 1,000 votes.
The Democratic primary is an important race because most registered voters in Hudson County are Democrats.
Menendez's 13th Congressional District includes Union City, West New York, Hoboken, Weehawken, Jersey City, North Bergen, and Guttenberg. It was expected that Menendez would cruise to an easy primary win by many of his supporters, who filed into Casino-In-The-Park in Jersey City's Lincoln Park starting around 8 p.m. A television in the waiting area was set on the New Jersey Network showing the election results for various seats across the state.
At one point, the results of the Menendez-Fulop race were shown, with only 11 percent of the precincts reporting. At the time, Menendez had 1,320 votes to Fulop's 40.
"Man, that's a hell of a margin," one supporter said, watching. Raul Perez, a retired NJ State Police officer and friend and supporter of Menendez for over 25 years, came to congratulate the man whom he said he always known and respected.
"I belong to a Hispanic police officers association in the state. And every year that we have a dinner, he had always shown up except for one time," said Perez.
By 9 p.m., many of the major figures in Hudson County politics began to appear. There was State Sen. and Hudson County Democratic Chairman Bernard Kenny of Hoboken hobnobbing in one corner. In another area, people were shaking hands and greeting Joseph Cassidy and Donald DeLeo.
What's a surrogate?
DeLeo the Hudson County surrogate (a judicial position whereby he presides over cases regarding wills and estates), first met Menendez over 20 years ago when DeLeo got involved in politics. DeLeo sees Menendez as someone who will continue to move up the political ladder.
"Given [Menendez's] record of making government work for the people, I definitely see him as well qualified to run for higher office," said DeLeo, who believes that Menendez can be a vice-presidential or presidential candidate in 2008.
Jersey City Councilman Junior Maldonado, who has known Menendez for almost 15 years, was campaigning with him in downtown Jersey City earlier in the day.
"He's still popular with the people. Everywhere in the ward that I represent (Ward E) there was an overwhelming show of love and support for the congressman," said Maldonado.
At the victory celebration, Menendez thanked everyone, from political chairmen and organizers such as Bernard Kenny and William Gaughan to longtime supporter Mike Gallo who had passed away recently. He especially thanked his son, Robert Menendez, Jr., who during the day had helped out at the Hudson County Democratic Organization headquarters in Jersey City.
Menendez also looked forward to continuing his work in the 13th Congressional District for an eighth term, which will end in 2006.
"This is a victory not only for me but for the people of the 13th Congressional District, who we're going to continue to fight for on the issues of creating good paying jobs, creating greater health care, security, and making sure we continue to work to create educational opportunity for all our children."
But Menendez would receive his largest applause when he spoke about being on Democratic Presidential Candidate John Kerry's team, which he will support.
After his speech, Menendez said that amongst the issues that he would be tackling during his new term would be to pursue an education bill that would enable students to received more monies for a college education. Fulop could not be reached for comment by press time.