Menendez, pharmaceutical CEO to compete for N.J. Senate seat

Menendez, pharmaceutical CEO to compete for N.J. Senate seat
© Greg Nash

Democratic Sen. Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezCNN anchors break into laughter over comedian's alleged prank call to Trump Comedian claims he tricked Trump while impersonating Dem senator Schumer: Obama 'very amenable' to helping Senate Dems in midterms MORE (N.J.), whose indictment on criminal bribery charges ended in a hung jury earlier this year, won his primary Tuesday night by a smaller-than-expected margin.

The Associated Press declared Menendez the winner about an hour after the polls closed. With 85 percent of precincts reporting, the incumbent senator had won about 62 percent of the vote.

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Local newspaper publisher Lisa McCormick, a little-known candidate who reported no fundraising or spending to the Federal Election Commission, pulled 38 percent of the primary vote.

The low margin for the longtime New Jersey politician could be a sign that he will need to do more to motivate Democrats to turn out in the fall.

Menendez has been in New Jersey politics for more than three decades: He served as a mayor and member of the state legislature before joining the House in 1993 and the Senate in 2007. But while he has risen in the ranks of the party both in New Jersey and in Washington, his performance on Tuesday night hardly looked like that of an entrenched incumbent.

Menendez was indicted in 2015 on bribery and fraud charges that accused him of trading influence in exchange for gifts from a longtime friend. The senator repeatedly stressed his innocence, arguing he did nothing improper.

After his trial ended in a hung jury, federal prosecutors dropped the charges against him and Menendez declared that he had been vindicated.

But Republicans aren't interested in letting voters forget about the indictment as his general election matchup against Bob Hugin, a pharmaceutical CEO who won the GOP nomination, kicks off.

On Tuesday, National Republican Senatorial Committee executive director criticized the "years of nothing but embarrassment and scandal from Menendez."

"While disgraced Senator Bob Menendez was accepting bribes in Washington, Bob Hugin was creating jobs for New Jerseyans,” Hansen said in a statement.

"New Jerseyans agree it’s time for a fresh voice in the U.S. Senate, and I am confident they will choose Bob Hugin this November.”

But Democrats are optimistic that Menendez will persevere, thanks in part to Menendez's long history in the state as well as enthusiasm in opposing President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump says he doesn't want to use 'adversary' to describe Russia Comey urges Americans to vote for Democrats in midterms Roby wins Alabama GOP runoff, overcoming blowback from Trump criticism MORE.

David Bergstein, a spokesman with the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, hit Hugin's record in business as a key contrast between the Republican and Menendez.

“As a CEO for a big pharmaceutical company, Bob Hugin made his millions by keeping prescription drug costs high and misleading cancer patients. He's one of President Trump's biggest backers and would be a rubber stamp for the Trump Administration in the Senate," he said.

"The choice between Hugin and Senator Menendez, who tirelessly fights for New Jersey, could not be clearer."

Polling so far has been all over the place. An April Monmouth poll found Menendez with a 21-point lead over Hugin, but a May Fairleigh Dickinson University poll showed Menendez up just 4 percentage points with most voters undecided.