New Jersey Sen. Joseph Kyrillos announced Thursday he intends to seek the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate to run against Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez in November.
The 51-year-old Monmouth County legislator said he converted his federal exploratory committee to a campaign account and will formally announce his candidacy soon.
"As the father of two young children, I believe we can and must restore the limitless opportunities and freedom that made America great and inspired people like my own father to immigrate to this country," Kyrillos said in a statement.
A message left with Menendez's Washington office was not immediately returned.
Kyrillos is a long-time friend of Gov. Chris Christie and has been the governor's closest GOP ally in the Legislature. Kyrillos chaired Christie's successful 2009 campaign for governor and Mitt Romney's 2008 presidential bid in New Jersey. Christie and his wife were the match-makers for Kyrillos and his wife, Susan.
"Joe has been a good friend of mine for nearly 20 years, as has his wife, and they are wonderful people," Christie said. "New Jersey would be extraordinarily well-served if Joe Kyrillos wound up in the United States Senate."
A 24-year veteran of the New Jersey Legislature, Kyrillos would face an uphill battle against the better-known and well-financed Menendez, especially with President Obama at the top of the ticket.
First, he'll have to get through a GOP primary that could include Hunterdon County conservative Sen. Michael Doherty and Tea Partier Anna Little. Conservative Ian Linker is the only other declared Republican candidate so far.
Recent polling data shows a 12 percentage point gap between Menendez and his closest challenger. The Fairleigh Dickinson University PublicMind poll released last week showed Menendez beating both Kyrillos and Little by a margin of 43-31 percent. The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percent. It did not include Doherty or Linker.
Kyrillos formed a federal exploratory committee in June. At the time, he said he was exploring ways to serve the country beyond the New Jersey Legislature.
Menendez, the son of immigrants who grew up in Union City, has been in Washington since 1993, first in the House before moving up to Senate in 2006.