- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 5, 2018

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) - 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.

Menendez wasted no time attacking Hugin after their victories Tuesday, continuing with the “greedy CEO” moniker he used throughout the primary, a reference to Hugin’s firm agreeing to pay $280 million last year over allegations it promoted cancer drugs that weren’t approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

“My opponent, greedy drug company CEO Bob Hugin, is going to have to answer for his record of driving up prices for cancer patients while making millions for himself,” Menendez said.

Hugin, whose company did not admit liability, appeared alongside Trump at the White House last year but has distanced himself from him since then and on Tuesday promised to be an “independent voice” in the Senate if elected.

“I am pro-choice, pro-marriage equality, and I strongly support equal pay for equal work,” he said. “I believe we, as a party and as a country, need to fix our immigration system in a comprehensive and compassionate way.”

Menendez is running for his third six-year term after facing little primary competition previously. On Tuesday, he defeated 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 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.

The issue was a factor for some Democratic voters, who said they couldn’t back Menendez.

“That was the ultimate pay to play,” said financial planner Leonard Cautelo, 60, in Montclair. “So I saw somebody was running against him so I voted for (her).”

The admonition and the 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 he accepted lavish gifts from longtime friend Dr. Salomon Melgen in return for help settling a Medicaid billing dispute. He maintained his innocence.

Hugin, a former Marine and Princeton University graduate, could face headwinds in Democrat-leaning New Jersey, where Trump is unpopular. Menendez has promoted himself as a check on Trump.

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.

Unofficial returns showed Menendez getting over 60 percent of the vote, which Monmouth University Polling Institute Director Patrick Murray called “a real wake-up call.”

He added that Trump will be a big factor in November, giving Democrats an edge, but said Hugin has an opening.

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: U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo in the 2nd District and U.S. Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen in the 11th. Democrats got their favored candidates in both of those races, with state Sen. Jeff Van Drew winning in the 2nd and former Navy pilot and prosecutor Mikie Sherrill victorious in the 11th.

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Associated Press writer David Porter, in Montclair, contributed to this report.

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