It would be one thing were it not U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez’s (D-NJ) home county.
But Four-Star General Wesley Clark’s invasion of Bergen later this afternoon to campaign for County Executive candidate James Tedesco underscores just how textured and hyper-local this rivalry might get as each man eyes greater dominance on the international stage.
Both close allies of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Menendez and Clark both have credentials that make them legitimate contenders for secretary of state in the event that Clinton runs for and becomes president.
This week we take a look at this fast-developing Democratic Party rivalry.
The general has Vietnam combat decorations, including two bronze stars and a silver, among other honors. He served as supreme allied commander of NATO in Europe from 1997 to 2000. His 2004 presidential candidacy gave such hope to those Democrats suffering the international excesses of George W. Bush but sputtered. He’s floundered politically since then, the victim of Clinton’s failed 2008 presidential bid.
There’s no military combat on the resume, but Hudson County politicians argue that their experience is probably comparable to warfare. Despite ending up on the losing team (with Clark) in that 2008 presidential primary, Menendez quickly climbed the leadership ladder in the U.S. Senate and put himself in the perfect position to capture the Senate Foreign Relations chairmanship when John Kerry replaced Hillary Clinton in 2013.
The Job at Stake: Secretary of State
Broad shoulders? Try Atlas-sized. We’re talking about downed Malaysian jets by Russian missiles; Gaza; Ukraine; Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, nuclear proliferation, child refuges from Central America. The only winner here would be the guy who doesn’t get the job.
Known as “the Perfumed Prince” when he was in the military in part because he was such a goody two-shoes, Clark at first appears to be the safer choice for Clinton. But then you look at something like his controversial attack on Russian troops at Pristina International Airport. Is this really the person who’s going to be the face of America when dealing with Vladimir ‘a sense of soul” Putin? What if one of Russia’s top negotiators was in a uniform at that airport that Clark wanted stormed because they wouldn’t join NATO? Then again, maybe it would be just the right icebreaker for tough guys like that. Clark’s politics bear some scrutiny. He was the Rudy Giuliani of 2004 when he bypassed Iowa to make his sweater-vested stand in New Hampshire where he got summarily run over by Kerry. Menendez has a much more artful political background. Clark’s put his foot in his mouth a lot over the years. New Jersey’s senior senator doesn’t make oratorical errors. Politics? He could probably have contributed a chapter to Aristotle’s book of the same title. His biggest hurdle would be the nominating process and the unresolved issue of that doctor-donor. Those types of albatrosses make White House advisers jittery, as the GOP could look to Menendez to bloody Clinton early in her tenure.
Most insiders see Clinton’s VP pick going Hispanic to lock down a key demographic to prevent the GOP from making gains in a group the establishment wing of the party continues to relentlessly court. Menendez might be on that list – but a youngster like HUD stud Julian Castro (former mayor of San Antonio) could edge him for the job. The senator has transcended the Hispanic tag in the halls of power but cabinet photo optics might not favor Clinton-Castro-Menendez, which could inure to Clark’s advantage. Then again, Clinton could pick Clark for Secretary of Defense and fight her way through the senate with the more politically seasoned Menendez as the country’s chief foreign diplomat.
Given the loyalty logged by both men, if they work as hard on her behalf as they have in the past, she’ll have to reward both of them.