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Menendez’s GOP challenger opposed allowing female, gay students in Princeton eating clubs

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Republican Bob Hugin, who’s running against Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), pushed back against efforts to allow female and gay students into all-male eating clubs while attending Princeton University.

When Hugin was a student at Princeton in the 1970s, he fought against efforts to allow women in as president of the Tiger Inn, one of the university’s all-male eating clubs, where upperclassmen dine.

Sally Frank, a female undergraduate student, was denied access and, in 1979, sued for women to be able to join. Even though the clubs eventually opened up to women, the case kept going until 1992 when two clubs, including the Tiger Inn, paid legal fees to the group representing Frank. Hugin, who was in his late 30s at that time, called Frank’s efforts “politically correct fascism.”

Hugin, the former CEO of pharmaceutical company Celgene Corp., expressed regret for opposing those efforts and his comments from 1992.

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“If I could go back in time, I would not use those words,” Hugin said in a statement. “It was a mistake and I take responsibility for that.”

The New Jersey Republican addressed the issue himself at a Thursday night roundtable event about equal pay for women, adding that “everyone evolves over time.”

“The Tiger Inn becoming co-ed was a very positive development for the organization and has strengthened it on every level,” Hugin said. “The decision, made by the undergraduate members, to admit women back in the early ’90s was without question the right thing to do. Personally, I wish I had taken a leadership role in making it happen sooner.”

Menendez’s campaign sent around a press release on Friday with a 1976 article published in the Central Jersey Home News where Hugin, a senior at Princeton at the time, said that if a student was found to be gay, “he wouldn’t last long.”

The decades-old story reported that Hugin led a campus petition to fight back against the university from broadening its anti-discrimination policy to include gay and lesbian students. He also called for a student referendum, arguing that “students as a whole should have a say on something so controversial as this.”

“Bob Hugin was in a position to show real leadership on advancing the causes of women and the LGBTQ community and failed, instead perpetuating a culture of discrimination and hate,” said Menendez campaign chairman Michael Soliman. “He is a disgrace and unfit to represent New Jersey and all its vibrant diversity.”

Hugin said that he’s also evolved on this issue, largely citing his children’s “insight … on the issues of equality and fairness.”

“I’m proud to say that my views are a lot different than they were 40 years ago,” Hugin said. “Personal growth should be seen as a strength, and more elected officials should embrace and be open to discussing it in their public lives.”

Hugin has poured $15 million of his own money into the race, giving Menendez a surprisingly strong challenge. A poll from Monday showed the race near a dead heat, with Menendez leading by just 2 points.

Menendez is still highly favored in the deep-blue state, where President Trump lost by 14 points in 2016. New Jersey hasn’t elected a Republican to the Senate since 1972.

But the 11-year incumbent’s approval rating has taken a hit after he faced corruption charges that were ultimately dropped.

Updated at 1:30 p.m.

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