NJ Senator Bob Menendez
US Senator Robert Menendez AFP

Embattled Senator Bob Menendez has gathered enough signatures to run for re-election as an independent in New Jersey amid his bribery trial, NBC News reported on Thursday.

Even though he needs 800 by June 4 to officially qualify for the race, sources close to the senator told the outlet that he is hoping to get to about 10,000 to "show the level of support he still has."

Menendez, currently facing trial over accusations that he took bribes in exchange for using his influence to benefit three New Jersey businessmen and the governments of Egypt and Qatar, said he would consider running as an independent if acquitted from the charges. Many Democrats have called on him to resign following the accusations, but the senator has refused to do so.

If Menendez effectively ends up running, he would likely face New Jersey Democratic Rep. Andy Kim and a Republican. However, a poll from April showed that his decades-long standing in local and national politics might not help him retain his seat, garnering little support from the state's electorate.

The survey, conducted by Emerson College Polling/PIX11/The Hill, showed Menendez with a meager 9 percent support in the general election, compared to 49 percent for the Democratic candidate and 42 percent for the Republican one.

Same as the Democratic party, voters seem to have soured on Menendez following the accusations against him. The poll shows him with a 14 percent job approval among New Jersey voters, compared to 62 percent who disapprove of him.

His standing is slightly higher with voters of color, but still nowhere near the levels needed to be competitive: "Hispanic and Black voters in New Jersey are more supportive of Menendez as an independent candidate, 17% support the senator rather than a hypothetical Democratic or Republican candidate, compared to 6% of white voters," Spencer Kimball, the executive director of Emerson College Polling, said in a press release.

However, a person close to the senator told NBC News that he's "not going down without a fight" and doesn't want his last image in Washington D.C. to be that of his criminal trial. A campaign would also allow him to hold fundraisers to cover his legal bills, which already amount to $2 million.

The case against Menendez continued this week, the latest development being a decision by the judge to prevent prosecutors from showing evidence they consider "crucial" to proving their case: alleged texts from 2019 when Menendez, then the top Democrat in the influential Senate Foreign Relations Committee, passing on key information to Egyptian officials and New Jersey businessmen accused of bribing him.

U.S. District Court Judge Sidney Stein also prevented prosecutors from showing a text from 2022 in which Menendez's wife, Nadine, allegedly telling one of the businessmen that "Bob had to sign off on this," in reference to pending foreign military sales to Egypt.

According to a CBS News recap of the trial, prosecutors said that Egyptian officials, "frantic about not getting their money's worth," contacted Menendez through two businessmen, kicking off the bribery scheme. The text, they say, intended to convey a message: "you keep the bribes flowing and he is going to keep giving you what you want on the military aid."

The trial could last until early July and has already seen a slew of damning allegations against the senator, including pictures of cash stuffed into boots and in jackets with his name embroidered and over a dozen gold bars.

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