For those who thought today would never come, here it is. Election Day, 2018. Midterms to determine the nation’s political direction for the next two years. New Jersey is being watched as a potential bellwether with three currently Republican seats legitimately too close to call. But it’s the top of the ticket – the U.S. Senate race – that has attracted the most attention across the country.
It shouldn’t have been this close. In 2012, Bob Menendez won his Senate seat by about 20 points. But after two years of a corruption scandal and a trial that ended in a hung jury, Menendez limped through the primary and then, in the general election, was forced to fight for his political life after millions of dollars of negative campaign ads.
“Every fact checker, not that I say it, every fact checker has disputed it. Have said it’s outright false. It’s a lie, Bob. It’s a lie and you know it. Don’t interrupt me. You know it’s a lie,” Menendez said to Republican opponent Bob Hugin during their only debate, referring to a negative ad that the Hugin campaign ran regarding allegations of sexual misconduct against the senator.
But the preponderance of ads featuring the much-debunked charges had their intended effect. Hugin, a former pharmaceutical company CEO, self-financed with over $30 million, has sullied the Menendez brand so successfully that he has made this race a legitimate toss-up.
“It’s Bob Menendez — 25 years in Washington, 16 years with a Democratic president and New Jersey’s dead last. We get the least back of any state, and he’s disgraced us. You can’t say to your children or grandchildren that this guy should be a role model. It’s embarrassing for all of us,” Hugin said.
For Menendez, it’s back to basics — blacks, Latinos, women and progressives of all stripes. He’s got to get them to believe that this race is really as much about keeping a check on the president as it is about his own record.
“I think in the end, we are going to have to turn out every single vote in order to win, and again this is about fighting for the soul and normalcy of America and we’re in it,” said New Jersey Working Families State Director Analilia Mejia.
“This has been something kind of really intense, aggressive, negative, and I think that’s why they kind of both dragged each other down and that’s why we see it so close,” said New York Times reporter Nick Corasaniti.
Menendez forces point to two recent polls — one from Stockton that has him up by 12 points and a Quinnipiac poll that has him up by 15 –as a sign that they have righted the ship. But what happens on Election Day is the one that actually counts.