Before Bob Hugin enters the race for United States Senator, he ought to call Doug Forrester.
Sixteen years ago, Forrester was a self-funder whose $10 million investment — $14 million in today’s dollars – was supposed to send him to the U.S. Senate against a Democratic incumbent weakened by ethical woes. A Star-Ledger/Eagleton Rutgers poll released the last weekend of September had Forrester ahead by 13 points.
Bob Torricelli, “severely admonished” by the Senate Ethics Committee for taking gifts from a Korean businessman, dropped out of the race on September 30. Even they were long past the legal deadline to name a replacement candidate, Democrats used New Jersey’s malleable state election laws to put Frank Lautenberg on the ballot. Forrester lost the five-week campaign by ten points, 54%-44% — a margin of 209,754.
“If Bob Torricelli had been in this race, we would have won,” Forrester told my old reporter, Steve Kornacki, the day after the 2002 general election.
Hugin could face the same problem: spend millions of his own money, tap friends for more, and convince national Republicans to put their resources behind him — and not in states like Indiana, Missouri, West Virginia or Minnesota. He’ll use those funds to mask his close ties to Donald Trump and Chris Christie and criticism that he accumulated his personal wealth through the often-unpopular world of big pharma. Hugin would become the “anti-Menendez.”
That’s what happened to Forrester. He spent millions just to be defined as the guy who was running against Torricelli. In modern New Jersey, Republicans don’t win statewide elections as much as Democrats lose them.
Within a week, Forrester went from leading by thirteen to trailing by four.
In a post-election analysis for my old website, the late Prof. David Rebovich (one of the most astute pundits to ever grace New Jersey), said once Torricelli was out, Forrester was just another Republican in a state that has elected only Democratic Senators in every election since 1972. The reason, Rebovich said, was that Lautenberg’s platform was “a laundry list of popular positions on the usual policy issues.” Rebovich said that New Jersey was a Democratic state – his exact words: “When in doubt, vote Democrat.”
New Jersey has 950,000 more Democrats than it did in 2002. George W. Bush had a 62%-34% approval rating in New Jersey; Trump was upside-down at 33%-65% in a Quinnipiac poll late last year.
Democrats have the luxury of time, and as indicated in the statements made yesterday in support of Bob Menendez, party leaders don’t feel encumbered by the inconveniences of filing deadlines. If the legal system plays out, and Menendez doesn’t get 85% of the jury vote as he did in the first trial, New Jersey will still be able to win the seat.
Seriously, Bob Hugin ought to call Doug Forrester.