New Jersey holds its primary elections Tuesday, but Republican Senate candidate Bob Hugin is already looking toward November.
The former CEO of drugmaker Celgene has unleashed a flurry of television ads attacking incumbent Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez for corruption charges that ended in a mistrial last year. Hugin, 63, aims to make the blue-state Senate race largely a referendum on the two-term senator's conduct.
The political newcomer has already piled $7.5 million of his own money into his campaign to blanket the airwaves with his message. As Hugin entered the Peppercorn diner in his hometown of Summit, New Jersey, last week, a waitress quickly exclaimed that she recognized him from the TV ads. His media campaign even followed him into the restaurant. A Hugin campaign ad questioning Menendez's moral fitness for office came on a TV there while the GOP candidate spoke to CNBC.
Seeking to break through in a state friendly to Democrats, Hugin has tried to spread his message far and wide. In an interview, Hugin cast himself as a "different kind of Republican" who would promote bipartisan health-care policy and could differ with President Donald Trump on issues such as immigration. He says he ran partly on a commitment to give back to New Jersey, and is undaunted by the challenge of facing a Democratic incumbent in a blue state during a year in which Democratic voter turnout is expected to be strong.
"We were originally morally outraged and offended, and if I didn't step in, who was going to step in to make sure that people in New Jersey had a choice? It's bad for democracy," Hugin said, arguing Menendez has a "character issue."
"So this wasn't my life's dream to do this, but I just felt both an opportunity and a responsibility to ensure the people of New Jersey have a choice about the direction of the state and the country," he added.
Both Hugin and Menendez face opponents in their Senate primaries Tuesday. The men are expected to win comfortably, however, and have already turned their attention to one another in what could become a nasty race. Already, Hugin and national GOP groups have relentlessly targeted Menendez for his ethics issues, while the senator's campaign has hit Hugin for Celgene's cancer drug price hikes while he led the company.