The long-awaited debate between U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez and Bob Hugin lasted less than one minute before the attacks started.
Much of the vitriol was expected, and the candidates’ attacks followed the same lines they’ve used throughout the campaign.
Hugin, perhaps only because he gave his opening statement first, threw the first stone, hitting Menendez on the same ethics issues that his campaign has publicized through millions of dollars in ad buys. Menendez started his own attacks by attempting to link Hugin to President Donald Trump.
“Let’s be clear. Violated federal law, abused the power of his office, disgraced the Senate and not just the only thing. There are other allegations, very specific allegations against Sen. Menendez,” Hugin said. “But on top of that, it’s not just corrupt, it’s ineffective. Twenty-five years in Washington, sixteen years with a Democratic president, and New Jersey’s dead last, we get back the least from Washington than any state in the country. It’s not right, it’s time for change.”
Menendez, who took the question on his ethics troubles first, apologized to voters for the episode but asked they look at the entirety of his time in Congress, naming laws he helped pass like the Affordable Care Act, which both candidates said they viewed favorably even if they thought parts of it were flawed.
In his response to Hugin’s rebuttal of his apology, however, Menendez pivoted into an attack.
“We would get a lot more back if we weren’t ripped off by the Trump administration, who he helped put in power, gave hundreds of thousands of dollars to his campaign, was his finance chair here in New Jersey, was a delegate for him at the convention,” Menendez said. “And then, we end up with a $2 trillion tax bill that was unpaid for and takes the property tax deduction from New Jerseyans.”
The attacks continued through on a question about the Republican tax plan, which Menendez opposes wholesale and which Hugin said he would not have voted for if it included the $10,000 cap of state and local tax deductions.
The debate, which was broadcast from NJTV’s studios in Newark, then turned to Hugin’s time as CEO of Celgene.
The company’s hikes to cancer treatment drug prices under Hugin’s tenure has been a cornerstone of Menendez’s attack plan.
“You can do well but also do good. Mr. Hugin, when he was the CEO of the company last year before he left, raised the price of the drug not once, not twice but three times, not because he had to but because he could,” Menendez said. “He preyed on the most vulnerable, those individuals who needed this drug because he wanted to make more profit. This isn’t about research. This is about profit.”
Hugin said nearly 90% of patients taking Celgene’s drugs never paid more than a $50 copay and said changes to the larger healthcare system were needed.
The debate went on like this for a fair share of its hour-long run-time, with candidates rehashing attacks they’ve leveled in TV ads and press conferences live on the air.
Hugin’s attacks focused largely on Menendez’s ethics issues and charged the senator was ineffective. The only new charge was one Hugin made about Menendez accepting contributions from foreign companies while serving on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, of which Menendez is ranking member.
Menendez’s attacks were primarily focused on linking Hugin to Trump. He attempted to do so on many policy questions, even ones on which Hugin said he disagreed with the president. He also hit Hugin on his time at Celgene and a decades-old attempt to keep women out of Princeton University dining clubs.
While a good portion of the debate was devoted to mudslinging, the candidates did manage to keep a majority of the hour civil, though they did take jabs at one another at every given opportunity.
Given that, it’s not surprising the candidates did not shake hands when their time on the air was done.