Menendez fends off tough challenge in NJ Senate race

Sen. Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Manafort sentenced to total of 7.5 years in prison Acting Defense chief calls Graham an 'ally' after tense exchange William Barr is right man for the times MORE (D-N.J.) won reelection in New Jersey’s Senate race on Tuesday night, a huge relief for Democrats as he faced a tougher-than-expected challenge in the deep-blue state.

Menendez defeated Republican Bob Hugin, a former pharmaceutical company CEO, in race that became surprisingly tight over the summer.

Republicans haven't won a Senate seat in New Jersey since 1972. The Garden State voted for former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonHow to stand out in the crowd: Kirsten Gillibrand needs to find her niche Ex-Clinton aide: Dems should make 2020 'about integrity' Trump mounts Rust Belt defense MORE by 14 points in 2016. But Menendez's campaign was heavily dogged by his past legal woes, which were a frequent line of attack from Hugin.

In 2015, Menendez was indicted on bribery and fraud charges for which he has denied any wrongdoing. His trial ended in a hung jury and federal prosecutors ultimately dropped the charges, but he was “severely admonished” by the Senate Ethics Committee.

With polls showing a close race and a lack of enthusiasm for Menendez in the primary, Hugin injected at least $31 million of his own money into his campaign. That forced national Democrats to make late ad buys to buoy Menendez, diverting resources from defending other incumbents in competitive races where President TrumpDonald John TrumpHow to stand out in the crowd: Kirsten Gillibrand needs to find her niche Countdown clock is on for Mueller conclusions Omar: White supremacist attacks are rising because Trump publicly says 'Islam hates us' MORE was more popular.

Menendez framed Hugin, who served as the president's state campaign chairman in 2016, as a Trump acolyte. And as health care dominated the midterms, Menendez hewed closely to his work on the Affordable Care Act and hammered Hugin’s pharmaceutical company, Celgene Corp., for steeply raising the price of a cancer drug.

Menendez, the ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has served in the Senate since 2006 and has been in New Jersey politics for more than 30 years.