Republican Bob Hugin had a tremendous uphill climb when he threw his hat in the ring against long-time Senator Bob Menendez in New Jersey. It’s a “safe seat,” after all, and despite being in a corruption trial last year, Democrats didn’t anticipate too much competition for Menendez.
They underestimated Hugin. They also underestimated the growing dislike of Menendez. In fact, the only thing they have going for them right now is that President Trump’s 33% approval rating is lower than Menendez’ 40%. Hugin supported President Trump’s campaign in 2016.
“It’s a single-digit race. I think, nationally, the Democrats are trying to bail him out. I think people know that Menendez is corrupt. They want change,” said Doug Steinhardt, chairman of the New Jersey Republican State Committee. “They see Bob Hugin as a sensible alternative, and he’s making a good case for himself.”
A spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee said the group has made a “six-figure” coordinated ad buy with the Menendez campaign. The North Jersey Record reported in late August the committee had spent nearly $450,000 on cable television ads to help Menendez. The DSSC didn’t do any coordinated spending with the Menendez campaign in 2012, according to Federal Election Commission records.
In many cases, having the support of the President will prove to be a good thing for candidates. That’s not the case in New Jersey. If Hugin has any chance of dethroning Menendez, he’ll have to do it by establishing himself as a free-thinker, a sensible choice for the people of New Jersey who do not like Menendez but do not want a Trump acolyte leading their state.