“People become too partisan, and I don’t care who people vote for,” said Republican Senate candidate Bob Hugin.
Hugin certainly voted for Donald Trump, running his financial campaign in New Jersey. But here he was, the presumed New Jersey Republican Senate candidate, campaigning deep in the heart of Ocean County, where 65 percent voted for Trump — hosting a roundtable with business leaders, ironically, to distance himself from the president.
“We need to represent all New Jerseyans,” Hugin said. “Make sure that we work together to find solutions.”
Specifically, Hugin opposes Donald Trump’s plan to claw back federal budget spending items like $7 billion in children’s health insurance and $107 million in Sandy relief. The latter’s an issue down the shore, and in Seaside Heights.
“Sandy was the toughest thing that I can ever remember, times 10. I lost my house, my cars, my business all at once,” said Seaside Heights resident, and local business owner, Peter Smith.
“It was ridiculous that Sandy money, and also anything to do with federal funding for the kid’s health care, was ridiculous to be pulled out. It was politics that people were playing, but I was going to stand up and I’m very confident this money’s not going to be lost,” Hugin said.
Hugin’s a political newbie, the former CEO of the controversial drugmaker Celgene. And the political reality in New Jersey is that it dislikes Donald Trump. That’s how analysts explain Hugin’s swerve to the middle.
“It’s hard to say whether this tactic’s going to be effective or not, but it’s certainly a necessary one. Donald Trump is very unpopular here in New Jersey. In our last poll in Monmouth a month ago, he had 34 percent approval rating to a 61 percent disapproval rating from voters in the state. So that’s telling you the uphill battle that Bob Hugin has to climb because Donald Trump really is the dominant factor right now in the environment that we’re looking at for these midterms,” said the Director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute, Patrick Murray.
It’s not Hugin’s only tactic against incumbent opponent Democrat Bob Menendez. Even though his corruption trial ended in a hung jury and the Department of Justice declined to retry him, Menendez was severely admonished by the Senate Ethics Committee. Hugin, a multimillionaire who’s largely financing his own campaign, is running ads.
Menendez Campaign Chairman Mike Soliman, responding to Hugin’s tacking left, stated, “Bob Hugin, who gave $5,400 to Trump, $250,000 to a Trump superpac, was a Trump delegate and Trump’s NJ finance chair, did everything he possibly could to put this administration in power. Which Hugin are we getting?”
Hugin wouldn’t say if he wants Trump to campaign for him.
“I support President Trump in every way when he’s doing something that’s good for New Jersey, and I’ll fight anybody who’s not doing anything that’s not good for New Jersey,” Hugin said.
Hugin’s got six months to move the needle, an eternity in politics, but he’s got a long way to go. The latest poll showed Menendez up by 20 points.