WASHINGTON – Gov.-elect Jon Corzine on Friday appointed Democratic Rep. Robert Menendez to serve out the remaining year on Corzine's Senate term, giving New Jersey its first minority senator.
Menendez, 51, becomes the third Hispanic in the Senate, joining Democrat Ken Salazar of Colorado and Republican Mel Martinez of Florida.
Menendez, with his huge $4.1 million campaign war chest and status as the third most powerful Democrat in the House, was long considered the front-runner for Corzine's seat. National Democrats pushed for a solid candidate to keep the seat in the party's hands in the 2006 election, a post no New Jersey Republican has won since 1972.
"Bob is a fierce and articulate advocate. He's a man of integrity," said Corzine, who was elected last month. "He is eminently electable."
The only GOP candidate for the Senate seat so far is state Sen. Tom Kean Jr., whose father was governor of New Jersey and chairman of the Sept. 11 Commission.