Sen. Bob Menendez faces unexpected challenge from New Jersey state senator

Alexis Levinson Political Reporter
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Joe Kyrillos hopes to score a major upset in November in his race against New Jersey Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez.

This is no easy feat for the Republican state senator. The two most recent polls of the race — from Fairleigh Dickinson and Monmouth Universities — put him 12 and 9 percentage points behind Menendez, respectively. But Kyrillos says he’s not deterred.

“It’s not a normal election year, it’s not a normal New Jersey year because the country’s hurting,” he told The Daily Caller in a phone interview.

“I don’t think that the president wins New Jersey with the kind of margin that he won last time, and I think it’s gonna be tight enough that — we have a story that is strong enough — that I’m in this game to win,” he said.

Kyrillos has released a seven-point jobs plan and earned the endorsement of several business groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Federation of Independent Business.

His jobs plan stakes out lofty goals: reforming entitlements, moving toward energy independence, instituting tax reform, reducing regulations on business, improving job training programs, fostering innovation and reforming health care.

Speaking to TheDC, Kyrillos highlighted the need for “a Simpson-Bowles Commission culture and methodology to deal with” issues like tax reform, entitlement reform and reducing government spending.

He also emphasized the need to reduce tax rates on businesses so they can bring funds back to the U.S. instead of keeping them overseas to avoid federal taxes.

Kyrillos hit Menendez, now in his first full term in the Senate, for what he said is his unwillingness to compromise or work with members across the aisle — a quality that many Republican candidates this year, like Indiana’s Richard Mourdock, are highlighting as a positive.

“I’ve been in public life for a long time,” Kyrillos said. “But, you know, I never forgot my basic and fundamental duty to represent the people, all of the people, and to produce positive outcomes.”

“And in a place like New Jersey, you can’t just work with one side of the aisle: You gotta work with everybody. And so that’s been my style for many, many years,” he added.

Kyrillos noted that a number of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s legislative accomplishments came with the help of Democrats in the state Legislature.

“I understand that just to deal with the challenges of the country we’re gonna have to do some different things and some hard things,” he added.

“And, you know, I’m ready to do it. They’re not always gonna be easy, they’re not always gonna be popular, and a lot of the challenges are really matters of math. They’re really math problems, they’re not about philosophy, or ideology, certainly not about partisanship. They’re about practicality.”

Menendez, Kyrillos said, has been unwilling to take the necessary bipartisan action needed to solve the country’s problems. The two served together in the state Assembly and briefly in the state Senate.

“I know his style,” Kyrillos said. “And I’ve watched him through this campaign. And it’s about partisanship. It’s about distraction and division, and it’s not about the core issues. And it’s not about figuring out how we can jump off together to deal with the challenges. And my style is a very different style.”

Gov. Christie is considered a possible running mate for Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney.  Kyrillos said he hopes Romney taps Christie for the role.

“Obviously, I would love for Christie to be the nominee,” Kyrillos said.

“One, because I think he’d be very good at it for, you know, a lot of different reasons. But also because nothing would be better for my candidacy than to have Chris on the ticket this November. You know, I’ll look like the smartest guy in North America in September for being running for the U.S. Senate if Chris should be the vice presidential nominee.”

Menendez was appointed in January 2006 to finish the U.S. Senate term of Jon Corzine, who resigned when he was elected New Jersey’s governor. In November of that year, he was elected in his own right.

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