POLITICS & GOVERNMENT

Menendez: GOP challenger Hugin running ‘deceptive campaign’

BY Briana Vannozzi, Correspondent |

The state’s senior US senator is counting on high voter turnout to hold onto his seat. Tightening polls and targeted TV ads unleashed by his opponent Republican Bob Hugin are putting Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez in a tough reelection race. Last week we caught up with Bob Hugin on the campaign trail. Now Sen. Menendez joins Briana Vannozzi.

Vannozzi: Last week we covered a campaign event with your opponent Bob Hugin. He stood at the shuttered former military base Fort Monmouth. He blamed you among those for its closer.

Menendez: Well, it’s part of his deceptive campaign. What he forget is that, number one, I wasn’t the U.S. Senator at the time; number two is, I joined the delegation in opposing the base closing and voted against it; number three, there was a Republican president who did the base closing, who was called President Bush, who he supported, financially and otherwise. So, it seems to me that Bob Hugin needs to get his facts straight, but facts doesn’t stop him from being deceptive. That’s one of the concerns I have in this race, that truth doesn’t seem to be an obstacle to Bob Hugin.

Vannozzi: Has this campaign gone a more negative route than you anticipated it would?

Menendez: Absolutely. I have, in most of my campaigns focused on telling New Jerseyans what I’ve done for them, what I fought for them on and what I intend to do. And sometimes, yes, there’s a comparison between you and your opponent, but my opponent doesn’t even say he’s a Republican most of the time, in his advertising. He doesn’t tell people what he’s going to do for them. All he does is spend his millions of dollars that he made based on making a killing off of cancer patients on negative advertising about me.

Vannozzi: Okay, so, that’s been something that we’ve heard from your side, we’ve heard in the ads. His ads have focused on alleging — essentially alleging a guilty verdict in your bribery and corruption trial, calling you corrupt. How do you shake, sort of, the negative attention from the trial? It’s somewhat coming out in the polls — the last Quinnipiac poll had you up by six points. It was a single [digit] lead. Can you shake that negative attention, because his campaign is bringing that up in their ads?

Menendez: Well, look. This is part of his deception,  the same deception that caused him to have to pay — him and his company — $280 million dollars to the federal government for falsely pursuing cancer drugs that were not approved for their purposes, for allegedly defrauding Medicare and Medicaid, the VA system. So you know, we’re fighting back letting New Jerseyans know about who Bob Hugin really is, but we’re also going about every day talking to New Jerseyans about what they care about. How do they get health care that is more affordable? And that’s from my work on the Affordable Care Act, the children’s health insurance and federally qualified health centers. We’re talking about how do we ultimately help more New Jerseyans be able to educate their kids and get a college education without graduating under a mountain of debt. How do we create new jobs, the two new trans-Hudson tunnels to New York, under the Gateway Project that I’m fighting for. These are the things that are going to make a difference in New Jerseyans’ lives. So, while he can focus on the campaign of false negativity, I’m going to continue to try and promote, both officially and in the campaign, what we’re doing for New Jersey.

Vannozzi: Very quickly, though, there was a poll out today from Stockton University. They looked to the 2nd Congressional District, South Jersey voters. I’ll add that is moderate district — they did vote for President Trump. But it has Hugin leading you by 10 points there, so perhaps that campaign rhetoric is working.

Menendez: So look, that particular district, Cory Booker lost it by seven points when he ran for election. Cory is very popular, obviously. It’s a very conservative district. The Quinnipiac poll that you mentioned, I looked at it four years ago. Same poll, same time of the year, when Cory was running — Cory Booker was running for election. He was only three points higher than I was. His opponent, Jeffrey Bell, who was virtually unknown and spent zero dollars, was at the exact same figure that my Republican opponent is at, after having spent $15 million. So I’m feeling pretty good about the race. But we take no New Jerseyan for granted; we take no vote for granted, and we’re working hard to achieve victory.

Vannozzi: We have just a minute left. I want to ask you about Brett Kavanaugh’s hearing. Will it happen on Monday? It’s — possibly the nomination process will be delayed for hearing about this alleged sexual misconduct. The accuser is now requesting the FBI investigation before testifying. Will this halt the nomination process?

Menendez: It should halt the nomination process. First of all, the Republicans are rushing through this nominee because they want to pack the Supreme Court with someone —

Vannozzi: They say Democrats are playing politics using this.

Menendez: Oh, no. First of all, Democrats just asked for what Republicans got when President Obama’s former nominee ultimately had thousands and thousands of documents in her history, and it was all given to Republicans. We can’t get that. Now you have someone, a doctor that comes forward, and makes an accusation. The FBI should investigate it, because otherwise it’s a “he said, she said.” There are many other witnesses to be had here, including another person who was supposedly at the incident, her former doctor who she confided in — I think in psychiatry, psychology sessions. So at the end of the day, all of that should be considered before you rush to judgment.

Vannozzi: Sen. Bob Menendez, thank you for your time — we appreciate it.

Menendez: Thank you.