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N.J. College Dems caught in controversy over endorsement of Kim for U.S. Senate

A white, marble building with columns and a brown door.
A Princeton College Democrats members involved with the College Democrats of New Jersey was present for a call regarding their endorsement for U.S. Senate.
Louisa Gheorghita / The Daily Princetonian

Nate Howard ’25, vice president of the College Democrats of New Jersey (CDNJ), was preparing to help make an endorsement in the N.J. Senate primary — one of the country’s most closely-watched elections as incumbent Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) faces federal bribery charges — when he joined a call that shocked him. 

The caller, Keely Magee, was in contact with the campaign for Tammy Murphy, a sports team owner whose husband, Phil Murphy, is the current governor of New Jersey and a member of the University's Board of Trustees. Magee offered CDNJ incentives to support Murphy’s campaign before cautioning Howard about potential consequences should the group endorse race frontrunner Rep. Andy Kim (D-N.J.).

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Magee, who works as a youth coordinator for the New Jersey Democratic State Committee, is also a college student. According to the phone call recording obtained by The New York Times, the Rutgers University junior told CDNJ members that “an early endorsement of Mr. Kim could harm their future job prospects, deprive their organization of as much as $2,000 in funding and hurt their odds of being selected as delegates to the Democratic National Convention in Chicago.” To persuade CDNJ to halt their endorsement of Kim, Howard said that Magee offered a phone call and a town hall for the college students to interact directly with Murphy.

In an interview with the Daily Princetonian, Howard said that “Before that call, there had been a series of other calls … [Magee] was trying to pressure us into not endorsing, [and] I wanted to hear that from her directly.” The final call Howard joined was recorded and shared with both The New York Times and Kim’s campaign.

Kim’s campaign helped Howard and his associates in CDNJ spread the word about their experience.

“Members of his staff have helped put me in contact with different reporters … so they’ve been helping to facilitate some of that,” Howard said.

Howard connected the maneuvers by the Democratic State Committee surrounding CDNJ’s endorsement process to his broader concerns surrounding the state’s Democratic Party.

“If they’re threatening us, who else? If they’re threatening college students who are by no means power brokers, what are they doing to people who actually have power?”

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The episode followed several recent polls which suggested that Murphy trails Kim by a wide margin, despite endorsements from many of the state’s most powerful Democrats and a record number of contributions.

In addition to serving as CDNJ’s vice president, Howard is president emeritus of Princeton College Democrats (PCD). PCD President Michelle Miao ’26 and PCD Vice President Nicholas Urbati ’25 also serve on CDNJ as Communications Director and Treasurer, respectively.

Miao is a staff Newsletter writer for the ‘Prince.‘

The College Democrats of America and its New Jersey chapter both released endorsements of Kim last Wednesday, Jan. 10. Since then, college democrats from across the nation have commented on the situation. Olivia Julianna, a prominent progressive and activist, reposted The New York Times' article on X (formerly known as Twitter), commenting that “attempts to intimidate young organizers in [p]olitics for political gain cannot and will not be tolerated."

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“We felt like [this endorsement] was quite important,” Urbati told the ‘Prince,’ noting that Kim and Murphy are the main candidates hoping to oust Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), who faces federal bribery charges tied to taking cash and gold bars from Egypt and Qatar. 

For the three Princeton students involved, the situation highlights their perceived need for young political activists to chart their own vision for the party independent of machine politics.

“The situation also demonstrates the power of Gen Z voters, if our endorsement mattered so much that the state party tried to intimidate us into withholding it,” Miao wrote in a statement to the ‘Prince.’ “We definitely haven’t been intimidated into silence, and PCD is going to keep speaking up and defending our values.”

A spokesperson for Murphy told the New York Times that Magee had “no connection” to the Murphy campaign. Howard told the ”Times” that when Murphy called last week to apologize for the incident, she maintained distance from Magee, and apologized for the “actions of someone unaffiliated with [Murphy’s] campaign.” Howard remarked to the ‘Prince’ that the Murphy campaign is “throwing [Magee] under the bus.” 

“Saying she’s unaffiliated is a technicality,” he said. “What matters is that she was serving as a liaison and a mouthpiece for the Murphy campaign, and was reiterating their offers to us in an effort to pressure us to not endorse. She chose to say those things, but she was doing it at the behest of other people.”

Miao wrote to the ‘Prince’ that while she “[acknowledges] that the caller was misled and instructed by higher-ups with connection to the Murphy campaign,” she is “disappointed that she followed through and tried to intimidate members of CDNJ, especially since we’re all college students.”

In an interview with The New York Times, Magee said the Murphy campaign had not asked her to pressure the group. Instead, Magee said she was aware that members of Ms. Murphy’s campaign staff “wanted to do something to prevent the endorsement,” and was in communication with a Murphy campaign consultant.

While Howard noted that the situation highlights the importance of college students to the democratic coalition, he also acknowleged that young people — the demographic least likely to vote — hold considerably less power than other political actors. In particular, he told the ‘Prince’ that CDNJ is “not a very powerful group,” and only began revamping its efforts last fall.

Despite the shock surrounding the situation, Howard said that the call from Magee were a “very compelling reason” to follow through with the endorsement of Kim. Miao wrote that she was proud of how Howard and CDNJ handled the situation, and that college students should “hold onto broader morals and think for [themselves] on whether or not we’re doing the right thing.”

“[College students] have a unique opportunity to stand up for what is right and stand up for Andy Kim, a candidate who will lead with integrity and devotion to public service, because we are not connected to the machine,” Howard said. “We are not attached, so I can’t be fired from my job in the state party. I don’t work for the state party. I work for college students in my role in CDNJ.”

“I think a lot of Gen Z-ers are not happy with politics in general, [and] I think politics in New Jersey is dominated by special interests,” Urbati said. “It’s hard for everyday people to run for office and get involved, and I think Andy Kim is a fresh voice. He’s not a career politician. He’s a career public servant.”

Howard and Urbati told the ‘Prince’ that PCD plans to invite both democratic candidates to campus. In the past, PCD has not endorsed specific primary candidates “out of respect for the ideological diversity” of its members. However, after an update to the constitution last fall, PCD policy now stipulates that it has the power to endorse any candidate for campus, local, state, and national elections, including primaries, through a majority vote by PCD members, according to Miao. 

Miao added that PCD is unsure of whether or not it will make a Senate primary endorsement but will likely discuss that upon returning to campus for the spring semester. She hopes that PCD will be active in this election and mentioned that interested students can participate through “on the ground efforts” such as canvassing, phone banking, and other get-out-the-vote initiatives. 

“I don’t want to speak for everyone, but personally, I have a lot of friends who are very excited to help out the Kim campaign and get involved, especially after hearing what happened with the endorsement,” she said. “Beyond this, I’m hoping that PCD can help inform and educate people on campus about the importance of this election and on issues that affect all students.”

The New Jersey Democratic primary for Senate will be held on Tuesday, June 4. This election will almost certainly determine the next Senator from New Jersey, as the state has not elected a Republican senator since 1972.

Elisabeth Stewart is an assistant News editor for the ‘Prince.’

Please send corrections to corrections[at]dailyprincetonian.com.