Hugin, who recently retired as CEO of pharmaceutical giant Celgene, believes he’s the one who will break the GOP’s losing streak, and he brings a powerful combination of personal wealth and a compelling story to his campaign.
DELRAN — Republican Bob Hugin kicked off his campaign to unseat U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez, predicting his campaign would show voters a stark contrast between himself and the Democratic incumbent who has been dogged by a corruption scandal for the better part of the last two years.
“While Bob Menendez and I grew up in the same town of Union City at the same time, we’ve gone in very different directions,” Hugin said Tuesday during his South Jersey campaign kickoff at the Delran VFW post on Fairview Street.
“I left Union City to serve our country in the Marine Corps and went on to build businesses designed to serve others; he went into politics to serve himself, his friends and his donors,” said Hugin, of Summit, Union County. “I’m offended by Senator Menendez’s actions. He’s violated the public trust, and almost as bad, he’s failed to deliver for New Jersey.”
The barb offered a possible preview of what voters might expect from the upcoming race as Hugin hopes to accomplish what no New Jersey Republican has managed during the last 40-plus years: win a U.S. Senate race.
Hugin, who recently retired recently as CEO of pharmaceutical giant Celgene, believes he’s the one who will break the party’s losing streak, and he brings a powerful combination of personal wealth and a compelling story to his campaign.
The Union City native attended Princeton on a scholarship and was the first member of his family to attend college. He also spent 14 years in the Marine Corps, seven in active duty service and seven in the reserves, which he credited with teaching him the value of selfless service and leadership.
His business experience includes 20 years with Celgene, a company he described as having just “six weeks of cash left” and among the “most likely to go bankrupt” when he joined that is now one of the “leading biotech companies in the world.”
“I have a lifetime of experience. I’ve built the skills and have a track record of helping others. It’s my time to step up now and enter this race to make a difference for all New Jerseyans,” he said, adding that his experience gives him unique insights into the challenges facing the health care system and the need to institute “value-based” reforms focused on patient outcomes.
“We need to reform the health care system in America. The delivery system is failing us and will only get worse,” he said. “I have spent the last 10 years really understanding the issues and all aspects of health care and will be a forceful voice for the kind of reform we need.”
On Tuesday, Hugin also briefly addressed the controversial GOP tax reform law, saying it “has some very good things for the American economy” but also “some very bad things for New Jerseyans” due to its new $10,000 cap on deductions for state and local taxes.
While Menendez was among the most vocal critics of the tax law, Hugin accused the Democrat of “sitting on the sidelines” and criticizing lawmakers who were engaged in writing and revising the measure rather than working with the GOP majority to approve a bill with a higher limit.
He specifically defended Rep. Tom MacArthur, R-3rd of Toms River, who was the lone member of New Jersey’s congressional delegation to vote in favor of the tax law.
“That deduction of $10,000 would have been zero if not for him,” Hugin said. MacArthur is facing his own challenge from Evesham Democrat Andy Kim.
Much like MacArthur, Hugin will likely have to overcome his own ties to Trump, who is viewed unfavorably by most New Jersey voters, as well as former Gov. Chris Christie.
Hugin contributed thousands of dollars to both Republicans’ campaigns and was blasted by the Senate Democratic Campaign Committee as a “rubber stamp” for Trump, a charge he disputed Tuesday.
“If Gov. (Phil) Murphy or Senator (Cory) Booker or any other Democrat have a good idea, I promise you I will stand up to support,” he said. “At the same time, if President Trump or any Republican has a view, or idea or plan that’s not good for New Jersey, I will stand up and disagree with them.”
Hugin appears likely to face a primary fight, but he has immediately emerged as the favorite to win the nomination to face Menendez, who remains a strong favorite to retain his seat, even after being indicted in 2015 on federal charges that he used his position and office to provide favors to a Florida opthamologist in return for political contributions, private flights and Caribbean vacations.
His trial last year ended in a mistrial due to a hung jury and federal prosecutors announced last month that they would drop the charges rather than bring the case to trial a second time.
Menendez has steadfastly maintained he did nothing to dishonor his office, but polls in the wake of his trial showed that the majority of state voters were not in favor of his re-election.
Still, New Jersey hasn’t elected a Republican U.S. senator since 1972, when Clifford Case won re-election, and Democrats enjoy an advantage of having nearly 900,000 more registered voters in the state than Republicans.
Hugin did not speak about the accusations against Menendez directly, but he repeatedly referenced the scandal, arguing that Menendez violated the public trust and must be “held accountable.”
“I’ll lead with integrity and high values that all of you share. New Jersey deserves a senator whose as good as its people, not one who’s working to stay one step ahead of the law,” he said.
Delran resident Bob Colegh said he was more interested in hearing about Hugin’s views about lobbyists in Washington than any scandal involving the incumbent.
“I asked him if he was going to get rid of the lobbyists because they’re the ones who have ruined Washington,” Colegh said after speaking briefly with Hugin at the kickoff. “I told him he needs to talk to the people up here to get an idea of what the people want. And he agreed.”