In the final fortnight of the 2018 midterm campaign, Sen. Bob Menendez is calling in the markers accumulated over 40 years of elected office. On Monday it was law enforcement and first responders, represented by their union heads and some rank and file, who gathered in the shadow of the World Trade Center to announce their backing of the state’s senior senator.
“Within four months, Sen. Menendez delivered $1.5 million for us to hire 13 more sheriff’s officers. And this is the kind of man that we need in Washington,” recalled Hudson County Sheriff Frank Schillari.
“I think that you all know that I’m not a candidate coming around before Election Day and promising that I’ll have your back. I’ve always had your back,” Menendez told the audience.
Over in Union County, where Republican Bob Hugin was preparing for a fundraiser Monday night, the former drug company CEO waved off the Menendez event.
“We’re lucky to have first responders in the state who put themselves at risk to protect us every day,” acknowledged Hugin. “But I’ll tell you what’s wrong with government is that it’s become transactional as opposed to policy, and philosophical and the people’s issues — what I get from me, what you get from me, and how we trade off — that’s what’s bad about government. That’s what ended up with Menendez having the problems he had with his best friend Salomon Melgen.”
It’s difficult, after months of campaigning, to get the candidates to talk about anything other than their default position of highlighting their opponent’s faults. Ask the senator what he’s feeling in the final days of the toughest fight of his political life and he will tell you everything he says is wrong with Bob Hugin.
“The reality is that every election is challenging,” he said. “When I ran the first time I ran against a storied name, son of the former governor. Then I ran against someone who was very close to Chris Christie when Chris Christie was popular and got hit by Superstorm Sandy less than a week before the campaign. That was challenging. But what’s challenging this time is that we have a multi-millionaire who made a killing off of cancer victims.”
In a campaign that has degenerated into name calling and charge hurling, neither candidate seems particularly inclined to spend a minute of air time – free or otherwise – not pointing out the negatives of his opponent.
“You’d think that after spending $25 million, he’d actually tell the people of New Jersey what you’re going to be for,” charged Menendez. “$25 million later and my Republican opponent hasn’t told New Jerseyans – in one commercial – what he’s actually going to do for them.”
Asked about the other side saying that all he’s done is say how terrible his opponent is and that he hasn’t been saying much about himself, Hugin said, “I don’t think that’s accurate or fair. I think actually he – after 25 years in Washington – 16 years of that time with a Democratic president – his whole campaign is not about what he’s done. He doesn’t talk about him. He wants to make it an election about me or somebody else.”
Both sides have made much of their campaigns about the other guy – in TV ads and campaign literature and public appearances. Wednesday they’ll have their only debate, where questions about them will be front and center as this campaign heads into the home stretch.