TRENTON, N.J. – Democratic voters, undeterred by a federal corruption case U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez had faced until it was dropped earlier this year, picked the two-term incumbent on Tuesday to represent their party in the fall campaign against a Republican former pharmaceutical executive.
Primary victories by Menendez and former Celgene Corp. chief executive Bob Hugin set the stage for New Jersey’s only statewide race in November as President Donald Trump and national Republicans defend a narrowly divided Senate.
Menendez and Hugin spent the primary campaign season offering a preview of the general election, hurling insults at one another while raking in millions of dollars in campaign contributions. Hugin appeared alongside Trump at the White House last year but has distanced himself from him since.
Menendez is running for his third six-year term after facing little primary competition in his previous two elections. On Tuesday, he defeated Rahway publisher Lisa McCormick, who mounted a campaign for governor last year before backing another candidate.
Hugin, who headed Celgene until this year, is largely self-financing his campaign and had broad GOP support against Brian Goldberg, an information technology professional and construction company executive.
Democratic voters picked Menendez just weeks after the Senate Ethics Committee rebuked him for accepting valuable gifts and failing to report them while using his position to advance the donor’s personal business interests. That and last year’s criminal corruption trial against Menendez, which ended in a mistrial before prosecutors dropped the charges, have fueled Hugin’s attacks.
In one campaign ad, Hugin showed washed-out images of Menendez with the word “disgrace.”
Menendez was indicted on charges that he accepted lavish gifts, including luxury trips to Paris, from longtime friend Dr. Salomon Melgen in return for help settling a Medicaid billing dispute. He maintained his innocence throughout the prosecution, but the Senate committee admonished him over the gifts last month.
Menendez has attacked Hugin as a “greedy CEO.” Hugin’s firm settled for $280 million last year over allegations that it promoted cancer drugs that were not approved by the Food and Drug Administration. Celgene did not admit liability in the agreement.
Hugin, a former Marine and Princeton University graduate, has promised to serve as an independent voice for Democrat-leaning New Jersey, where Trump is unpopular.
But Hugin had been close enough to the president to attend a discussion on drug prices at the White House in early 2017. He later called the meeting “incredibly encouraging” and described the president’s agenda as “pro-growth.”
Menendez has promoted himself as a check on Trump, who lost to Democrat Hillary Clinton in New Jersey in the presidential election. Democrats have nearly 900,000 more registered voters than Republicans in the state.
Menendez has about $5.6 million on hand, according to the Federal Election Commission. Hugin has $4.5 million and loaned his campaign about $7.5 million.
The race is sure to garner attention from outside the state because control of the U.S. Senate is up for grabs. Republicans hold 51 seats, and Democrats control 49, including two independents.
Voters on Tuesday also were choosing the state’s 12-member congressional delegation, including selecting party nominees to replace two Republican incumbents retiring from the U.S. House.
In New Jersey’s 2nd District, which covers all or parts of eight counties and includes Atlantic City, Democrats and Republicans were vying to succeed retiring Republican U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo.
In the 11th District, Republican U.S. Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen’s decision to retire after 12 terms set up five-way Democratic and Republican primaries.
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