By Donald Wittkowski
With some polls showing him within striking distance, Republican Bob Hugin urged Cape May County’s GOP faithful Sunday night to give him their full support in his contentious U.S. Senate race against Democrat incumbent Bob Menendez.
“Let’s remember, I need 1.2 million votes to win,” Hugin said of the number of ballots statewide that would likely seal his victory.
Appearing at a Republican rally in Sea Isle City, Hugin told a packed crowd that he must overcome a significant advantage held by Democrats in the number of registered voters throughout the state.
“There are 925,000 more registered Democrats than Republicans in New Jersey,” he said.
As the heated campaign enters its final two days, polls generally show Menendez leading the race. Hugin, though, said one poll indicates he is up by 2 points.
“We are this close,” Hugin said of the tight race. “If we get out the vote, we win.”
Although Democrat Hillary Clinton carried New Jersey in the 2016 presidential election, solidly Republican Cape May County supported Donald Trump. Hugin’s campaign stop in Sea Isle was part of a whirlwind campaign tour across New Jersey on Sunday designed to solidify his Republican base.
Cape May County Republican Chairman Marcus Karavan said New Jersey’s Senate race is a crucial part of the midterm elections nationwide on Tuesday.
“This is a turning point for our state,” he said.
Karavan and other Cape May County Republican leaders were joined by a crowd of party supporters at the Kix-McNutley’s nightclub in Sea Isle in a get-out-the-vote push for Hugin, Republican congressional candidate Seth Grossman and Republican Cape May County Freeholder Leonard Desiderio.
Desiderio, who owns Kix-McNutley’s and also serves as mayor of Sea Isle, is seeking his sixth term on the freeholder board. He is considered a heavy favorite against little-known Democratic challenger Jeremiah Schenerman.
Hoping to boost Hugin and Grossman’s campaigns, Desiderio focused most of his remarks on the Senate and congressional races. He predicted that Hugin will upset Menendez.
“We’re going to go out there and bring the biggest victory for a Republican in New Jersey ever,” Desiderio said, eliciting a roar from the crowd.
Desiderio added, “We need to keep that Congress seat Republican, with Seth Grossman.”
New Jersey hasn’t elected a Republican to the U.S. Senate since 1972. According to media reports, Hugin, a former pharmaceutical executive, has spent more than $30 million of his personal fortune to try to unseat Menendez in the Democrat’s bid for a third term.
Repeating the theme of his TV attack ads, Hugin said during Sunday’s rally that Menendez “disgraced” himself amid federal bribery charges. Menendez survived the corruption scandal last year when his trial ended in a hung jury and federal prosecutors later decided to drop the criminal charges against him
“What he has done has embarrassed and disgraced us,” Hugin said of Menendez.
Menendez has criticized Hugin’s tenure as the former chairman and chief executive of the pharmaceutical company Celgene Corp. Menendez and his supporters have tried portraying Hugin as a greedy corporate executive, alleging that Hugin tried to thwart competitors from making cheaper generic versions of Celgene’s cancer-fighting drugs.
Grossman, meanwhile, is embroiled in a bitter fight of his own for the seat in the 2nd Congressional District. The district represents parts of South Jersey, including Cape May County and Grossman’s home base of Atlantic County. Grossman, a former Atlantic County freeholder, is facing state Sen. Jeff Van Drew, a Democrat from Cape May County.
Polls show Van Drew has a sizable lead in the race. Van Drew and Grossman are vying to replace Rep. Frank A. LoBiondo, the moderate Republican who is retiring after representing the 2nd Congressional District since 1995.
Grossman told his Republican supporters at Sunday’s rally that he has “turned the polls around” late in the campaign to move closer to Van Drew. He predicted New Jersey Republicans will prevail on Election Day.
“If anybody out there is taking bets, bet that the Republicans are going to sweep New Jersey, from Bob Hugin on down,” Grossman said.