New Jersey hasn’t sent a Republican to the Senate since the Gerald Ford administration. But in one of the more remarkable and definitely least-noticed developments of 2018, the state is showing signs that it could actually flip from blue to red.
New polling shows the lead of incumbent Sen. Bob Menendez disappearing under the attacks of challenger Bob Hugin. Once ahead by more than 17 points, according to Quinnipiac University polling, the Democrat now leads just 43 to 37 percent among registered voters.
Hugin doesn’t strike fear into the hearts of Democratic consultants at first glance. He is the most generic of businessmen — a multimillionaire pharmaceutical executive. But Menendez inspires absolute glee among the opposition. He is perhaps most profligate in the upper chamber, attracting the attention of a federal grand jury for that one time he let a donor fly him around on a private jet, wine and dine him at tropical golf courses, and put him up in a five-star hotel in Paris.
Menendez was indicted, tried, and lucky to have the charges against him dropped after a mistrial. That last fact hardly matters, though, as a political consideration. Millions spent on advertising plus sultry details about his opponent’s conduct could translate to a late surge for Hugin.
Partisanship keeps both party bases loyal to their candidates, according to the Quinnipiac University poll, which shows Hugin with 85 percent of Republican support and Menendez with 75 percent of Democrats. But independent voters split in the challenger’s favor, 37 to 33 percent.
Those numbers make for a Senate race unlike anything else going on in these midterms. While other Republicans try drafting behind President Trump, Hugin keeps his distance. Trump is unpopular in the state, forcing Hugin to focus his argument on the ethical lapses of Menendez. Luckily for him, there is plenty of material there to work with.