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How a congressman’s challenge to New Jersey’s first lady is shaking up a key Senate race

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How a congressman’s challenge to New Jersey’s first lady is shaking up a key Senate race

MOUNT LAUREL, N.J. (AP) — When New Jersey first lady Tammy Murphy walked up to Rep. Andy Kim last weekend to congratulate him with a handshake after his third consecutive win in his bid for a U.S. Senate seat, the goodwill gesture represented a surprise within a surprise.

The Senate seat only became competitive because incumbent Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez had been unexpectedly indicted last year on federal corruption charges. And Kim’s wins in three state county committee votes so far have fueled sudden momentum for the mild-mannered three-term congressman, who is mounting a more formidable challenge than is typical against a well-connected political figure in a state where connections count for a lot.

That matters in the Democratic stronghold of New Jersey, where Democratic primaries often decide elections — and where primary winners are sometimes chosen by party leaders in behind-the-scenes gatherings well ahead of the primaries themselves. Kim sued this week in federal court to challenge the way counties draw ballots to favor candidates with party support.

As surprising as they were, Kim’s wins in three counties so far, including his and the first lady’s home turf, hardly settle anything. Murphy, who comes from the world of high finance and has spent years cultivating allies among state party leaders, has already secured the support of party bosses in the more populous counties of Bergen, Camden and Essex.

Menendez, meanwhile, has yet to declare whether he will seek another term, though the charges against him have generated spectacular headlines. They are seen by many to be career-ending, though he has pleaded not guilty and projected a defiant stance as turmoil suddenly engulfed a seat that had long been seen as safe for Democrats.

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Tough race for Democratic nomination

Still, the wins by Kim suggest that the race for the Democratic nomination won’t be easy for anyone. It pits Kim, perhaps best known for being spotted cleaning debris from the U.S. Capitol after the Jan. 6 insurrection three years ago, against Murphy, who is married to Gov. Phil Murphy and has made maternal mortality her signature issue in her role as first lady.

Kim’s lawsuit signals that he still believes New Jersey’s way of giving better ballot positioning to candidates favored by local insiders could give Murphy an unfair advantage, a view shared by many political observers.

“We do not have competitive primaries. We in theory have them, but in practice we have party leaders who get behind closed doors and the nominee is presented to the public as a fait accompli. This is your candidate, love it or lump it,” said Daniel Cassino, executive director of the Fairleigh Dickinson University Poll. “The fact that we’re actually having this primary is a sign something has gone awry.”

The competition between Kim and Murphy began almost as soon as the Menendez indictment was announced. It gave New Jersey a rare competitive Democratic primary for one of only three statewide seats — the others, for a second Senate seat and governor, aren’t on the ballot this year.

The seat may yet remain in Democratic hands, but a contentious campaign could consume energy and resources as the party gears up for a grinding presidential campaign and the larger fight to control Congress.

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Kim cast his candidacy in terms of the public’s distrust of officials and party insiders, pointing specifically to Menendez’s indictments. A 2015 federal corruption indictment against Menendez ended in a hung jury and with prosecutors dropping the case. The concern, Kim said in an interview, is that progressive Democrats who oppose the party bosses’ influence and independents might sit out the November election if they think Murphy’s candidacy was foisted on them.

“If the Democrats don’t fix this and show that this is a credible and legitimate process, I think that this Senate seat could be in jeopardy this November. And I think that that’s something I absolutely refuse to see happen because I’ve been there in Congress. I know exactly what the Republicans would do if they have the majority in the Senate,” Kim said.

Tammy Murphy, who worked at Goldman Sachs briefly and helped start a policy think tank in New Jersey, pushed back at the notion that the support she has is based on her marriage to Phil. She said Saturday she isn’t asking for his help. She also defended her departure from the Republican Party, which she left shortly before her husband’s run for governor in 2017.

“I’ve been on the ground for the last eight years, literally building the party,” she said. “I’ve shown up serially in all these, all the red counties where they needed help. I showed up.”

She added: “Many people are leaving the Republican Party here now, and I will tell you, I have stood for the same values since day one. Absolutely the same values.”

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GOP hopes

The possibility of Republicans picking up the seat in November is overblown, Cassino said, in large part because the state tilts so overwhelmingly Democratic and because it’s an election year. Ben Dworkin, who heads the Rowan Institute for Public Policy & Citizenship, echoed that sentiment, pointing out Republicans haven’t been elected to the Senate in New Jersey since 1972.

Republicans are grappling with their own primary, featuring southern New Jersey businessman Curtis Bashaw, Mendham Mayor Christine Serrano Glassner and former TV news reporter Alex Zdan. Also running in the Democratic primary are labor leader Patricia Campos-Medina and civil rights activist Lawrence Hamm.

Shortly before the Burlington Democratic Party results were announced Saturday, voters leaving the hall greeted each other with smiles and hugs. Kim and Murphy both stopped to chat with people.

Murphy had talked earlier in the day about needing to send “ticked off” moms to Washington to fight for families. Kim had focused on being a county native and said he’d fight for the state particularly in light of the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection and the threat to the country’s democracy.

A number of voters acknowledged the awkwardness of having the first lady and their congressman competing and declined to say which one they supported. But they sounded more certain about their resolve to win in November.

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“We’ll come together,” said Gina LaPlaca, a local official in Burlington County. “The threat from Republicans is too much.”

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Reggie Bush reinstated as 2005 Heisman Trophy winner. Changes in NCAA rules led to the decision

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Reggie Bush reinstated as 2005 Heisman Trophy winner. Changes in NCAA rules led to the decision

NEW YORK (AP) — Reggie Bush has been reinstated as the 2005 Heisman Trophy winner more than a decade after Southern California returned the award following an NCAA investigation that found he received what were impermissible benefits during his time with the Trojans, the Heisman Trust announced Wednesday.

“We are thrilled to welcome Reggie Bush back to the Heisman family in recognition of his collegiate accomplishments,” said Michael Comerford, president of The Heisman Trophy Trust. “We considered the enormous changes in college athletics over the last several years in deciding that now is the right time to reinstate the Trophy for Reggie. We are so happy to welcome him back.”

Bush had won the trophy awarded to the top player in college football after amassing more than 2,000 yards from scrimmage and scoring 18 touchdowns in 2005. His 784 first-place votes were the fifth most in Heisman history.

The Heisman Trust has returned the trophy to Bush and the replica to USC. Bush will be invited to all future Heisman Trophy ceremonies.

The Trust said in a statement that its decision followed a “deliberative process” in which it closely monitored changes in the college football landscape. That included the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2021 decision that questioned the legality of the NCAA’s amateurism model and opened the door to athlete compensation; the ability of college football players to be paid for their name, image, and likeness; and the NCAA’s recent proposal to remove the cap on education-related payments.

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“Recognizing that the compensation of student athletes is an accepted practice and appears here to stay, these fundamental changes in college athletics led the Trust to decide that now is the right time to return the Trophy to Bush, who unquestionably was the most outstanding college football player of 2005,” the Trust said.

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AP college football: https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-football-poll and https://apnews.com/hub/college-football

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United Nations demands investigation after mass graves discovered at 2 Gaza hospitals raided by Israel

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United Nations demands investigation after mass graves discovered at 2 Gaza hospitals raided by Israel

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The United Nations called Tuesday for “a clear, transparent and credible investigation” of mass graves uncovered at two major hospitals in war-torn Gaza that were raided by Israeli troops.

Credible investigators must have access to the sites, U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters, and added that more journalists need to be able to work safely in Gaza to report on the facts.

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Earlier Tuesday, U.N. human rights chief Volker Türk said he was “horrified” by the destruction of the Shifa medical center in Gaza City and Nasser Hospital in the southern city of Khan Younis as well as the reported discovery of mass graves in and around the facilities after the Israelis left.

PELOSI CALLS ON NETANYAHU TO RESIGN, CONDEMNS HIM AS ‘OBSTACLE’ TO PEACE

He called for independent and transparent investigations into the deaths, saying that “given the prevailing climate of impunity, this should include international investigators.”

“Hospitals are entitled to very special protection under international humanitarian law,” Türk said. “And the intentional killing of civilians, detainees and others who are ‘hors de combat’ (incapable of engaging in combat) is a war crime.”

U.S. State Department spokesman Vedant Patel on Tuesday called the reports of mass graves at the hospitals “incredibly troubling” and said U.S. officials have asked the Israeli government for information.

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U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Türk, speaks during a news conference in Baghdad, Iraq, on Aug. 9, 2023. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban, File)

The Israeli military said its forces exhumed bodies that Palestinians had buried earlier as part of its search for the remains of hostages captured by Hamas during its Oct. 7 attack that triggered the war. The military said bodies were examined in a respectful manner and those not belonging to Israeli hostages were returned to their place.

The Israeli military says it killed or detained hundreds of militants who had taken shelter inside the two hospital complexes, claims that could not be independently verified.

The Palestinian civil defense in the Gaza Strip said Monday that it had uncovered 283 bodies from a temporary burial ground inside the main hospital in Khan Younis that was built when Israeli forces were besieging the facility last month. At the time, people were not able to bury the dead in a cemetery and dug graves in the hospital yard, the group said.

The civil defense said some of the bodies were of people killed during the hospital siege. Others were killed when Israeli forces raided the hospital.

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Palestinian health officials say the hospital raids have destroyed Gaza’s health sector as it tries to cope with the mounting toll from over six months of war.

The issue of who could or should conduct an investigation remains in question.

For the United Nations to conduct an investigation, one of its major bodies would have to authorize it, Dujarric said.

“I think it’s not for anyone to prejudge the results or who would do it,” he said. “I think it needs to be an investigation where there is access and there is credibility.”

The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Karim Khan, said after visiting Israel and the West Bank in December that a probe by the court into possible crimes by Hamas militants and Israeli forces “is a priority for my office.”

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The discovery of the graves “is another reason why we need a cease-fire, why we need to see an end to this conflict, why we need to see greater access for humanitarians, for humanitarian goods, greater protection for hospitals” and for the release of Israeli hostages, Dujarric said Monday.

In the Hamas attack that launched the war, militants killed about 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and abducted around 250 hostages. Israel says the militants are still holding around 100 hostages and the remains of more than 30 others.

In response, Israel’s air and ground offensive in Gaza, aimed at eliminating Hamas, has killed more than 34,000 Palestinians, according to local health officials, around two-thirds of them children and women. It has devastated Gaza’s two largest cities, created a humanitarian crisis and led around 80% of the territory’s population to flee to other parts of the besieged coastal enclave.

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North Macedonia votes in presidential polls as EU membership bid looms

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North Macedonia votes in presidential polls as EU membership bid looms

The vote is the first in a series of polls that could decide whether the diverse Balkan country will ever join the EU.

Voting is under way in North Macedonia to elect a president ahead of an upcoming parliamentary election as the Balkan country continues to ponder its European Union membership bid.

The results of Wednesday’s polls are due later in the day, shortly after the polling stations close at 18:00 GMT.

The country has 1.8 million registered voters in a population of 2.3 million, and the turnout must be at least 40 percent for the result to be valid.

The 61-year-old incumbent President Stevo Pendarovski is a candidate of the pro-European Social Democrats running for a second five-year term and is challenged by the 70-year-old Gordana Siljanovska-Davkova from the opposition VMRO DPMNE coalition.

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The two offer different views on how to deal with neighbouring Bulgaria’s condition of securing a recognition of a Bulgarian ethnic minority in the constitution of North Macedonia, in exchange for its backing of Skopje’s EU bid.

Pendarovski and the ruling centre-left Social Democrats (SDSM) are prepared to make the amendments but lack the numbers to win a parliamentary vote.

The opposition coalition refuses to budge, saying any constitutional changes can come after North Macedonia joins the EU, a stance the government says is unrealistic.

EU membership talks for the Balkan state began in 2022 as part of a process expected to take years, and its candidacy for the 27-nation bloc dates back to 2005.

The country had already cleared another resistance to its membership bid from Greece in a 2019 move to change its name from Macedonia to North Macedonia. The Balkan state joined NATO in 2020.

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About 1.8 million registered voters can cast ballots on Wednesday for one of seven candidates who are competing for the largely ceremonial president’s post [Boris Grdanoski/AP Photo]

Voter Stavre Temelkovski told The Associated Press news agency that he had high expectations that North Macedonia would become a full-fledged EU member soon.

“I expect a civic movement to win, for us to be a part of all those pro-Western systems, and to start a process of healing for a state which has waited for almost three decades,” he said. “Many generations are exhausted.”

Parliamentary vote

The election on Wednesday comes ahead of a parliamentary vote on May 8.

If the presidential vote goes to a second round of voting, a possibility indicated by the results of state-released polls, a run-off vote will also be held on May 8.

The opposition’s Siljanovska-Davkova is expected to take 19.2 percent of the votes and Pendarovski 9.7 percent, according to state television. Foreign Minister Bujar Osmani, a candidate for the DUI party, is forecast to come third with 6.6 percent of votes.

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In total, seven candidates are running for the largely ceremonial position after less than a month of campaigning, with discussions also ranging from the rule of law, fighting corruption to reducing poverty.

North Macedonia
Ruling Social Democratic Union of Macedonia’s presidential candidate and North Macedonia’s President Stevo Pendarovski votes during the presidential election [Ognen Teofilovski/Reuters]
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