Bob Hugin, a former pharmaceutical executive, announced he is running for the Republican nomination for Senate here Tuesday, giving Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez a deep-pocketed potential challenger as he seeks re-election after federal corruption charges against him were dropped.
Hugin, 63, was a top executive at New Jersey-based Celgene for nearly 20 years and has been exploring a bid for the Republican nomination for weeks, announcing his intent in an email Monday followed by an official kickoff rally here.
“The state of affairs in New Jersey is not great, in fact, in many ways, is headed in the wrong direction,” Hugin said, pledging to bring a sense of affordability and responsibility back to New Jersey, and an era of change in Washington, D.C.
But the new candidate quickly set the tone for what could be an expensive and negative race, pledging that this campaign would be about “contrasts” between himself and Menendez. Although Menendez has not officially announced he would seek a third term, his political advisers have signaled that he intends to run.
“I’m embarrassed about how people think about New Jersey based on Senator Menendez’s behavior,” he said. “It’s embarrassing. He must be and he will be held accountable by the voters this November.”
Political advisers to Menendez said the senator would not comment on Hugin’s remarks.
Menendez is emerging from a monthslong politically damaging corruption trial that ended in a mistrial after a jury was unable to reach a verdict. After saying they were going to retry Menendez, federal prosecutors reversed course after a federal judge acquitted him of several of the charges.
Menende has a $4.1 million campaign fund and is unlikely to face a serious challenge in the Democratic primary, having locked up nearly every key Democratic endorsement in the state.
Hugin, a U.S. Marine veteran who was born in Union City, just like Menendez, pledged that he was a “fiscal conservative” but would not be beholden to the Republican Party on issues that hurt New Jersey, like capping state and local tax deductions under the new tax law.
“If President Trump or any other Republican has an idea or a view that is bad for New Jersey, I will forcefully stand up and disagree with them,” he said.
Hugin has strong ties to former Gov. Chris Christie, having donated $250,000 to a super PAC that supported Christie’s presidential bid and has also donated more than $100,000 to groups linked to President Donald Trump.
Christie’s lieutenant governor, Kim Guadagno, who was at the rally, said there “couldn’t be a bigger contrast between Bob Hugin and Bob Menendez.”
The trial of Menendez offers Hugin plenty of fodder for attacks. After the first trial ended in November, 51 percent of New Jersey residents said that Menendez should not be re-elected, according to a Rutgers-Eagleton poll.
But Hugin has his own potential liabilities. Celgene, the company that helped make him wealthy, recently settled a $250 million lawsuit claiming that it marketed cancer drugs for unapproved uses. And his ties to Christie and Trump, both of whom are unpopular in the overwhelmingly Democratic state, could hurt him in the statewide race.
Hugin praised Celgene, claiming it “is one of the leading biopharmaceutical anticancer companies in the world, does amazing things for patients’ lives, has transformed multiple cancers to chronic disease and is on the verge of curing several cancers.”
Hugin will likely win the Republican nomination, as no major challenger has emerged and his personal wealth amounts to a considerable war chest, but he faces a steep challenge in the general election. A Republican has not won a Senate seat in New Jersey since 1972, and there are about 900,000 more registered Democrats than Republicans in the state.
And Menendez has shown an ability to battle back from negative press and poll numbers before, as he did when news first broke about the charges being filed against him.
Hugin was not always exclusively a Republican donor and supporter. During Menendez’s 2010 re-election bid, Hugin donated $4,800 to his campaign, according to Federal Election Commission records.