Dems nab challenger for N.J. Rep. LoBiondo

Democrats hope to put a previously safe Republican-held district in play with the announcement of attorney Bill Hughes Jr.'s decision to challenge Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R-N.J.) in 2014.

Hughes, the son of former Rep. Bill Hughes (D-N.J.) and a former federal prosecutor, announced his run Thursday afternoon in Atlantic City, and said he was inspired to run in part by the shutdown.

“New Jersey residents are tired of the irresponsible brinksmanship in Washington that brought on the reckless government shutdown and continues to threaten local jobs,” he said, according to the Press of Atlantic City.

“Our community can’t afford to be represented by someone who continues to oppose any reasonable solutions and keeps repeating the same failed policies that are hurting our economy," he added. "New Jersey needs a new and responsible leader who will work to protect and grow our middle class, create new jobs, and spur our local economy — that’s why I am running for Congress.”

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Hughes had told The Hill in September that he was considering running in New Jersey's 2nd District, and that he had been contacted by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee about the race. 

He could face a primary challenge in state Sen. Jeff Van Drew, who has repeatedly considered — and decided against — challenging LoBiondo.

LoBiondo won his last race easily with 57 percent of the vote, but that was after spending more than $1.3 million to defeat a relatively weak candidate.

Democrats believe he's beatable because New Jersey's 2nd is a swing district with a slight Democratic advantage, and President Obama won it in 2012 and 2008 with more than 50 percent of the vote.

But LoBiondo seemed unconcerned about the challenge in comments to PolitickerNJ.

"As I have said previously, I welcome all interested candidates into the race and look forward to a vigorous discussion of the issues, their involvement in our community and the qualifications they would bring to representing the 2nd Congressional District," he said.

And Republicans are gleeful at the prospect of campaigning against Hughes, who has a colorful client list from his career as a criminal defense attorney.

Within hours of Hughes entering the race, the National Republican Congressional Committee had launched a standalone site highlighting some of Hughes's clients.

The site, BillHughesJrForCongress.com, shows a photo of handcuffed wrists and features the tagline "Helping New Jersey's most corrupt criminals since 2002," with an option to donate to the NRCC.

“Bill Hughes Jr. has spent the past decade making big money representing some of the worst criminals in New Jersey — whether it be a dirty cop, an accused human trafficker, corrupt public official, a mobster, or even a child pornographer,” said NRCC spokesman Ian Prior in a release.

"The choice in this election will be very clear — a bipartisan leader and public servant like Congressman LoBiondo, or a criminal defense lawyer like Hughes Jr. who specialized in standing up for the rich, powerful, and criminally corrupt.”

Confronted by The Hill back in September with questions about his clients, Hughes defended his work.

"If [Republicans want to make an issue out of that that's fine. I have no hesitation about discussing my practice. That's the work that I do," he said.

He added that Republicans looking to attack him for his work in criminal defense "do so at their own peril."

"It's pretty short-sighted and, quite frankly, it makes them look like spinmeisters. This is why people don't like politics. This is why people don't like government," he said.