Update: Hugin conceded the race at about 10:15 p.m.
The New Jersey Globe projects U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez will win reelection in the toughest race the senator has faced since first winning the seat in 2006.
The senator will defeat Republican candidate Bob Hugin, a former CEO of the pharmaceutical company Celgene that put $36 million of his own money into his bid to unseat Menendez.
The race was defined more by either candidate’s negatives than anything else.
Menendez’s ethics troubles stemming from a corruption trial over his relationship with Salomon Melgen that ended in deadlock earlier this year was the only reason the seat was seen as competitive.
Much of Hugin’s bankroll focused on the issue, and the challenger began airing ads attacking Menendez on ethics as early as April.
The senator focused on Hugin’s tenure at Celgene, highlighting repeated price increases to a cancer drug the company manufactured made under Hugin’s command.
Then, in the latter half of the contest, Menendez and his surrogates, among whom were Gov. Phil Murphy and U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, focused on Hugin’s ties to President Donald Trump.
Hugin was New Jersey finance chair for Trump’s 2016 campaign, and the president endorsed him today, just seven hours before polls closed.
The race became more vicious as it neared its end, with Hugin airing deceptive ads highlighting unsubstantiated allegations that the senator solicited prostitutes, some of whom were underage, during trips to the Dominican Republic.
Those issues largely dominated the campaign, and each candidate mentioned policy, they largely did so only as contrast, keeping the focus on their opponent’s negatives.
Hugin’s considerable cash advantage — he spent more than two dollars for every one Menendez did — proved not to be enough to overcome the massive registration advantage Democrats hold in the state.
Still, Menendez didn’t skate by unscathed. Murphy spent much of the last week stumping for Menendez, and the Senate Majority PAC injected about $8 million into the race in its final weeks to bridge the massive spending gap between the two. Were New Jersey’s race as safe as it typically is, that money could have gone elsewhere.
In the end, New Jersey voters decided to shelf whatever hangups they had about the senator’s record and keep New Jersey’s Senate delegation blue rather than letting the seat slip into Republican hands and virtually eliminate the already slim chance Democrats have at retaking Congress’s upper chamber.