Bob Menendez’s 9-point win over self-funder Bob Hugin – a 53%-44% margin and a plurality of 253,148 – was the result of high voter turnout in Democratic strongholds, a strong showing in North Jersey suburbs, and a Democratic registration edge of about 930,000 in one of the bluest states in the nation.
Republicans have not won a U.S. Senate race in New Jersey since 1972 – only Hawaii has gone longer – and Hugin, despite spending $36 million of his own money – could not overcome a decidedly Democratic political environment fueled by opposition to President Donald Trump.
Hugin spent most of his money on TV ads attacking Menendez’s ethics, but was never able to close his own deal with New Jersey voters.
Despite being heavily outspent, Menendez was successful in painting Hugin as a greedy drug maker who made millions by raising the price of a life-saving cancer drug sold by Celgene, the pharmaceutical company he ran.
Menendez was also able to cast Hugin as a Trump supporter, despite Hugin’s effort to portray himself as a different kind of Republican – one more of the Tom Kean/Christie Whitman mold that won statewide races in the 1980’s and 1990’s.
In the end, Hugin’s 44% was about what a Republican U.S. Senate candidate typically receives. Steve Lonegan got 44% against Cory Booker in 2013 and Jeff Bell got 42% in 2014; neither spent anywhere near what Hugin did.
Menendez’s big producer was Essex County, which delivered him 156,805 votes – a 77%-21% win for the Democratic senator. Menendez’s 113,206 vote margin in Essex was about the same as Hugin’s combined margins in Ocean (65,256), Monmouth (27,178) and Morris (21,755).
Hudson County gave Menendez 118,478 votes – a 76%-21% win and an 85,848-vote margin. Brian Stack in Union City and Nicholas Sacco in North Bergen each sent about 12,000 votes Menendez’s way.
While Jersey City mayor Steven Fulop sat out Menendez’s campaign, Team DeGise – Hudson County Executive Tom DeGise and Hudson County Democratic chair Amy DeGise – worked with the nine members of the Jersey City Council to produce for Menendez and render Fulop politically impotent.
Middlesex County was viewed as a must-win for Hugin, but the county Democratic organization delivered a 39,280-vote plurality for Menendez – a 58%-39% margin. Camden County Democrats came through with a margin of 38,238 votes, 62%-34%.
Menendez won Union by 48,699 (64%-33%), Bergen by 33,479 (54%-43%), Mercer by 25,259 (62%-34%), and Passaic by 23,147 (57%-40%). He also scored wins in Somerset (51%-46%) and Burlington (53%-44%).
The loss of Burlington set back Hugin’s South Jersey strategy, although he carried Atlantic (50%-46%), Cape May (61%-36%), Gloucester (50%-46%), and Salem (57%-38%). Hugin leads in Cumberland by 49 votes.
Hugin also won the three counties Republicans always win: Hunterdon (58%-39%), Sussex (62%-33%), and Warren (60%-36%).