Republican U.S. Senate nominee Bob Hugin has wasted no time reaching out to Democrats after his GOP primary victory in New Jersey on Tuesday.
Hugin has vowed to make the November general election race about the conduct of his opponent, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), who skated on public corruption charges after a mistrial in November and the DOJ dropped the case in January. Menendez’s victory in the Democratic primary on Tuesday was less than convincing, as he received only 62 percent of the vote, while his opponent, Lisa McCormick, received 38 percent of the vote, despite not even raising the $5,000 that would require a Federal Election Commission filing.
Now, Hugin intends to wage a five month trial of Menendez’s conduct in the court of public opinion among New Jersey voters, and he hopes they will render a “you’re fired” verdict to the embattled two term Democratic senator in November.
A retired pharmaceutical executive with an estimated net worth of $50 million, Hugin appears to be running as a centrist Democrat ideologically while on the Republican ballot, thereby giving Democrats disgusted with Menendez’s personal conduct a viable alternative.
Hugin’s strategy may prove to be a winning formula in a state Donald Trump lost by 13 points to Hillary Clinton and where the president’s job approval ratings are currently underwater by a significant margin.
Should Hugin win the general election, Republicans will have the advantage of his vote for a Republican as Senate majority leader, but perhaps not much else in the way of the support for the president’s agenda.
Trading Hugin for Menendez, however, looks like a good deal for Republicans who want to maintain their majority in the U.S. Senate.
Hugin reached out to centrist Democrats on Thursday to oppose the legislation President Trump sent to Congress last month “to rescind $15 billion in federal spending, not including omnibus spending – the largest rescission request in American history and the first since Bill Clinton was president,” as Breitbart News described the proposal last month.
In a statement, Hugin’s campaign said “the rescissions package . . . would cut federal funds for New Jersey, including $7 billion from the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and $107 million from funding for Hurricane Sandy relief.”
“I would not support cutting money from any program that takes money away from New Jersey. We’re already 50 out 50 in what we get back from Washington as a percentage of what we send there, and to have New Jersey taxpayers further burdened by the federal government is unacceptable,” Hugin said in the statement.
“As Senator, I will be an independent voice who will always put the people and interests of New Jersey above party and politics,” he added.
The Hugin campaign also sent out a press release highlighting a series of negative articles about Menendez, under the banner “Democrat Voters Call Menendez a ‘Disgrace.'”
Among those articles was one by Adrienne Romero, who reported at NJ.com about a long time Democrat who won’t be voting for Menendez in November.
“Raised as a Democrat in Hudson County, Patrick Murphy was always told who to vote for by his grandfather, a politician. Now, however, he’s doing it in his own way. ‘(Menendez) is a disgrace to the Democratic party,’ Murphy said, noting that he hadn’t voted yet on primary day. ‘I observed his character — I, cannot say whether he is guilty or not guilty of any of the crimes — however, he is an unpleasant person and I will never vote for him,’” Romero wrote.
“The low margin for the longtime New Jersey politician could be a sign that he will need to do more to motivate Democrats to turn out in the fall,” the Hill reported, adding:
Menendez has been in New Jersey politics for more than three decades: He served as a mayor and member of the state legislature before joining the House in 1993 and the Senate in 2007. But while he has risen in the ranks of the party both in New Jersey and in Washington, his performance on Tuesday night hardly looked like that of an entrenched incumbent.
Even the reliably left wing Slate had few kind words for Menendez, the Hugins campaign gleefully noted.
“National Democrats got their preferred candidates in each of New Jersey’s House primaries on Tuesday night, but the very same voters sent a strong rebuke to Sen. Bob Menendez, who barely mustered 60 percent of the vote running against an unknown challenger. The lackluster showing by Menendez, whose federal corruption trial ended in a mistrial last year, shocked Democrats and could create a new headache for the party as they try to win back control of the Senate,” Slate reported.
Though he has $3.5 million cash on hand in his campaign, Menendez’s poor showing in Tuesday’s primary may hurt his ability to raise money.
Hugin, in contrast, has sufficient wealth to continue to self-fund his campaign well beyond the $7.5 million he has already donated. With $4.5 million cash on hand, the Republican nominee in New Jersey may end up with greater financial resources than Menendez to present his case for the prosecution and removal of Menendez from office to New Jersey voters over the next five months.
One recent poll, conducted a week before the primary, showed Menendez has a mere four point lead over Hugin in a general election matchup.
The last time a Republican was elected to the U.S. Senate from New Jersey was 46 years ago, in 1972, when Sen. Clifford Case (R-NJ) was re-elected to his fourth and final term.
The general consensus among the political pundits is that Hugin will have an uphill battle to break that 46 year-long streak of Republican electoral losses in New Jersey Senate races. The Cook Political Report, for instance, has not changed its rating for the New Jersey Senate race from “Likely Democrat,” despite Menendez’s weak showing in the primary and Hugin’s significant financial resources.
In the end, though, it is the voters of New Jersey who will make that decision, and in today’s political world, any number of unexpected things can happen over the next five months that will influence which ballot those voters cast in November