Bob Menendez Wins Senate Race in N.J., Beating Back a Challenge From Hugin

By Nick Corasaniti


Nov. 6, 2018

Mr. Menendez leaving a voting booth after casting his vote Tuesday in Harrison, N.J.


Senator Robert Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, was elected to a third term on Tuesday amid a surge of support from the suburbs that remade the state’s congressional delegation, sending at least three new Democratic representatives to Washington.

Mr. Menendez was able to withstand a public backlash over his federal corruption trial and the official Senate criticism he received for misusing his office for personal gain to turn back a spirited challenge by his Republican opponent, Bob Hugin, a pharmaceutical executive who poured more than $35 million of his own wealth into his campaign.

Mr. Hugin’s funds largely went toward incessant negative advertising, a blanket reminder of the ethical cloud surrounding Mr. Menendez that saturated the airwaves for months.

With 98 percent of the votes counted, Mr. Menendez was ahead by nearly 10 percentage points, according to The Associated Press.

The Democratic candidates who seized Republican-held House seats — Mikie Sherrill, a former Navy pilot; Tom Malinowski, a former assistant secretary of state; and Jeff Van Drew, a moderate state senator with a record of supporting gun rights — ran on a mix of issues central to suburban voters, but were also propelled by discontent with President Trump.

The final race where Democrats were hoping to score another victory, pitting Representative Tom MacArthur, the Republican incumbent, against Andy Kim, the Democratic challenger, remained too close to call early Wednesday. Neither candidate was expected to speak before the morning.

Of the five Republican-held seats in the state’s 12-member delegation, only one incumbent, Chris Smith, won on Tuesday. Depending on Mr. MacArthur’s fate, the best the Republicans could hope for were two seats, which would be the smallest representation by Republicans since President Richard M. Nixon and further cements the state’s deeply blue turn.

At the core of the national upheaval coursing through the Republican Party as it grapples with Mr. Trump’s leadership is the erosion of support from the suburbs. There, wealthy and well-educated whites — particularly women — who had supported Republicans for generations have recoiled against the president’s caustic language.

The shift has been acute in New Jersey, where affluent suburban expanses extend out from New York City and Philadelphia.

Within days of Mr. Trump’s election in 2016, Democratic activists had mobilized in the state. Powerful grass-roots groups sprang from kitchen-table talks with the goal of turning congressional districts blue. Protests became a weekly staple outside the state offices of Republican representatives.

“Thank you for your vision for realizing the possibilities of the 11th District here in New Jersey,” Ms. Sherrill said in her victory speech. “Tonight, we celebrate a historic moment, born of our deep belief in what we have to do to make America what it should be.”

But the race for the Senate played out quite differently.

That Mr. Menendez, 64, even found himself in a tight race in New Jersey, a state with nearly one million more registered Democrats than Republicans, was a testament to the frustrations of many voters over the ethical transgressions that led to the senator’s formal admonishment in Congress.

But in the end, they seemed willing to set aside their feelings and helped propel Mr. Menendez to another term. For many, a vote for Mr. Menendez was a way to express their rejection of Mr. Trump’s policies and behavior.

“Today is a victory of hope over hate, for facts over fiction, for inclusion over division, for hard work over ripping people off,” Mr. Menendez said in his victory speech, at a raucous rally in Hoboken.

Still, the Democrats struggled for months to excite voters, even in districts where competitive House races had electrified the base. National and state party leaders, sensing that Mr. Menendez’s seat could no longer be taken for granted, mounted a last-minute, all-out rescue effort.

With weeks to go and internal party polls showing the race narrowing, national Democratic groups poured more than $7 million into the state. Popular Democrats, like Senator Cory Booker, who also represents New Jersey, spent the days before the election campaigning relentlessly for Mr. Menendez.

But in a race defined by nastiness, with Mr. Hugin, 64, lobbing corruption allegations and Mr. Menendez highlighting the cost of cancer drugs at Mr. Hugin’s former company, the final week swung on a single issue: Mr. Trump.

Both candidates released ads late in the campaign that focused exclusively on the president, whose incendiary and nationalistic rhetoric on immigration as a play to his base undoubtedly backfired in New Jersey, which is among the most diverse states in the country.

Mr. Hugin, who made it clear during the race’s only debate that he was “not a Trump Republican,” seemed to sense that the dislike of Mr. Trump in New Jersey had grown in recent weeks.

In his concession speech, Mr. Hugin said he had “no regrets” about running as a moderate Republican and said that his approach was a model for Republicans in New Jersey.

“We have to recognize, to win in the future, that’s the template, that’s the blueprint,” he told supporters in Mountainside. “We need to make sure people feel that if we win, we’re going to represent all New Jerseyans.”

The president loomed over every contest in New Jersey, though the dynamic shifted slightly in the House races. The Democratic candidates were quick to seize on two of Mr. Trump’s top agenda items — the newly passed federal tax law that capped the state and local tax deduction at $10,000, and the effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act — as indicative of the president’s effort to target blue states.

In the Seventh District, in the northwestern part of the state, the mere party association with Mr. Trump was too much for Representative Leonard Lance, a moderate Republican who voted against the tax bill, in his effort against Mr. Malinowski.

In the 11th District, where Mr. Frelinghuysen retired after 24 years, Ms. Sherrill focused heavily on the tax bill and standing up to Mr. Trump while running against Jay Webber, a state legislator who was among the most conservative Republican candidates in New Jersey.

Mr. Menendez’s victory was a referendum on Mr. Trump as much as it was a recognition of the senator’s extensive legislative record — the senior senator was one of the authors of the Affordable Care Act and helped steer $60 billion in federal relief funds to the state after Hurricane Sandy. Still, he was never quite able to overcome the tarnish of his corruption trial.

After the trial ended in a hung jury last November, Democratic leaders in the state quickly coalesced around him, dampening any enthusiasm for a serious primary challenge.

The begrudging embrace of Mr. Menendez stood in stark contrast to the energy that poured into down-ballot races. Many voters expressed an ambivalence — “hold your nose and vote” — about their support of Mr. Menendez.

Mr. Menendez, in thanking the voters who showed faith in him, also pledged to win back those he had disappointed.

“I pledge to spend every day fighting for you and your families and to earn back your respect,” Mr. Menendez said.

Mr. Menendez will enter a third term with a powerful position as the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Still, even at his election night party, memories of Mr. Menendez’s corruption trial resurfaced in an odd scene.

Mingling with other supporters was Evelyn Arroyo-Maultsby, a juror in Mr. Menendez’s trial who said she showed up to the watch party uninvited after seeing where it was on television.

“I wasn’t sure they would let me in,” said a beaming Ms. Arroyo-Maultsby, 62, who sported a white Menendez campaign T-shirt and a Spanish-language “Nuestro Senador” poster.

Ms. Arroyo-Maultsby, who was excused in the middle of the corruption trial so she could go on a preplanned vacation, said she could not remember whether she voted for Mr. Menendez in 2012. But she voted for him on Tuesday, she said, and cited the trial as her political education about Mr. Menendez and “all the things that he does for this country.”

“I learned a lot in the courtroom,” she said. “It drew me to him.”

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