Clinton fundraiser touts Menendez as VP candidate

Vice President Bob Menendez?

John F.X. Graham, one of Hillary Clinton’s National Finance Co-Chairs, thinks that the New Jersey Senator would make a great choice if Clinton wins the Democratic primary.

Graham fired off an email this morning to Clinton Campaign Manager Terry McAuliffe listing politicians who would make good vice presidential material, including the choices most often brought up: Barack Obama, Bill Richardson, John Edwards and Joe Biden. But Menendez, a Clinton campaign national co-chair, would be the “most intriguing” choice, Graham wrote.

Graham said that, like Richardson, Menendez can appeal to the increasingly important Latino voting bloc, but has universal appeal as well. And Mendendez’s Cuban heritage makes him well received in Florida’s predominantly Republican Cuban-American community.

“The name Richardson does not exactly sound Latino,” wrote Graham. “The Latino voting block is becoming the most influential in this election, especially with the immigration and other economic issues confronting our prosperity. For a lack of a better term, he is the Latino Barack Obama with the experience.”

Menendez would be the first vice president from New Jersey since Garrett Hobart, a former State Senate President from Paterson who ran with William McKinley in 1896.

In a phone interview, Graham said that the idea is his own, and has not discussed it with anyone until today. But he said that Menendez has been working hard for the Clinton campaign, traveling to Nevada, Florida and California to make appeals to Latino voters – and has done so effectively.

“You cannot say he was not a major factor, going out and doing television ads,” said Graham of Menendez’s recent visit to Nevada, where Clinton defeated Obama.

Moreover, Graham said, there is nobody else from New Jersey who could be a realistic choice for the second spot. In addition to his Latino heritage, Menendez offers a long congressional record, a leadership role as vice chair of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, and extensive foreign policy experience.

“He is the only one I can see at this moment that crosses all the barriers and what we need to put New Jersey in the position to have a Vice President,” he said.

And if not for Vice President, Graham said that Menendez would make a great choice for U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations.

Menendez spokesman Afshin Mohamadi downplayed the possibility, saying that the Senator has not considered running for the position.

“That is certainly flattering, and I know the Senator very much appreciates the support for the work he is doing,” said Mohamadi. “I can tell you that the Senator is squarely focused on continuing to stand up for New Jersey families in the Senate and on getting a big New Jersey vote for Senator Clinton on February 5, but he has had no discussions about a vice presidential bid.”

It’s not the first time Menendez’s name has been floated for the position. In 2000, reported that House Minority Whip David Bonior floated Menendez’s name to Al Gore as a potential veep pick. Menendez was serving as Vice Chairman of the House Democratic Caucus.

But it will be tough for Menendez to survive the heavy vetting he’ll have to face if he’s actually considered for the position.

During his 2006 U.S. Senate campaign against state Sen. Tom Kean, Jr., the Star-Ledger reported Menendez was under federal investigation for earning hundreds of thousands of dollars from renting a building to the North Hudson Community Action Cooperation – a non-profit organization for which he helped secure federal funding. The leak to the newspaper during a tough election battle brought allegations of political motives by U.S. Attorney Christopher Christie, but the story took a turn this summer when the New York Times reported that the investigation was focused on lobbyist Kay LiCausi, a former congressional aide who may have been romantically involved with Menendez.

Even some Democrats acknowledge that, until the investigation is completely resolved, Menendez would not make a realistic choice for the Vice Presidential spot.

“That’s the issue. That’s the litmus test,” said Graham. But Graham noted that if anyone can sympathize with investigations, it’s the Clintons, and that Obama has his own issues from his ties to his friend and political donor Antoin Rezko, an infamous Chicago slumlord.

“Look at what the Clintons have been through. Look at what Barack’s going through with Rezko in Chicago,” he said.

New Jersey GOP State Chairman Tom Wilson snickered at the prospect of a Democratic Vice-Presidential candidate from Hudson County.

“Is Hillary Clinton really going to want to be saddled as a guy who lorded over what is widely recognized to be one of the most corrupt political organizations in New Jersey?,” he said. “My first thought is I don’t think Hillary will want to put someone on her ticket who’s even more liberal than she is. My second thought is I don’t think Hillary will be looking to balance her ticket with someone who’s under investigation in his home state.”

But in addition to having his hopes dashed by an ethics investigation, Menendez can also count hailing from New Jersey as a major disadvantage. A Senator from New York will probably seek some geographical diversity on her ticket – and selecting a colleague from across the river won’t likely provide that.

“It is too early, but it’s nice of Graham to mention him,” said Ingrid Reed, Director of the Eagleton Institute’s New Jersey project. “I would say simply that the geography makes him a long shot.”

But Graham thinks Menendez “crosses the geographical divide,” citing Florida as one of the places where Menendez would help the national Democratic ticket.

“Here is what he brings to the table: national Latino recognition, i.e. New York, New Jersey, the southwest –Arizona vs. McCain– and just as importantly, California, where the United Farm Workers, the Sanchez sisters, and the Mayor of Los Angeles — all Latino — have endorsed Hillary,” Graham wrote to McAuliffe.

Clinton fundraiser touts Menendez as VP candidate