Despite running under an ethical cloud, Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez won a third full term in New Jersey, dispatching a Republican challenger who self-funded his campaign.
With 18 percent of precincts reporting, Menendez narrowly led former pharmaceutical company executive Bob Hugin 51 percent to 46 percent when The Associated Press called the race.
Menendez led in all polling leading up to Election Day, but the race was often too close for comfort for Democrats who are on defense this year and couldn’t afford to lose a Senate race in a blue state. National Democratic groups invested millions of dollars in the Garden State to boost the scandal-plagued Menendez, who had high unfavorable numbers.
Hugin spent about $36 million of his own money on this race, using much of it on TV ads against the incumbent. But all the negative advertising may have turned off some voters who didn’t feel Hugin, who faced his own ethical questions from his tenure as CEO of Celgene, presented a viable alternative to Menendez.
Democrats tried to tie Hugin, a Trump delegate in 2016, to the president, who remains unpopular in a state Hillary Clinton carried by 14 points. Hugin came out in support of Supreme Court Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh, which gave Democrats further ammunition.
The Department of Justice dismissed federal corruption charges against Menendez earlier this year, but voters didn’t forget his other ethical quandaries. They just weren’t necessarily ready to ditch a Democratic senator in favor of a Republican one, even one who supported abortion rights.
“Sen. Menendez should be in prison,” an independent voter told Hugin at a fall festival in Morris County last month. “But I have two issues: Roe v. Wade and gun control.”
A registered Democrat at the festival felt similarly. “What Menendez did was wrong. I’m not even going to try to defend him,” he said. “But he has done good things for working people and the environment.”