In his concession speech to Senator Bob Menendez, challenger Bob Hugin made it plain he believes 'New Jersey deserves better'
MOUNTAINSIDE – The first hint that it wasn’t going to be a good night for Republican U.S. Senate candidate Bob Hugin came even before the polls closed.
I got talking to Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick and he showed me some vote-by-mail results from Hunterdon County. Even though that’s a reliably Republican district, Democratic incumbent Bob Menendez was holding a slight lead.
“This is what happens when you piss people off,” said Bramnick. “Don’t piss people off.”
He wasn’t talking about Hugin, the former Marine and pharmaceutical executive who is as cordial a candidate as you will ever meet. He was talking about President Trump.
It is Bramnick’s theory that The Donald is all too abrasive in selling his policies – and that the abrasiveness ended up costing the Republicans a lot of votes in places like the Union County suburbs where the Hugin victory party was set to take place.
That’s Bramnick’s turf and he knows it as well as anyone. Trump’s tactics may be more effective in places like my own Ocean County. But the early results seemed to show that it cost Hugin some key votes in the northern suburbs.
Around 9 p.m. Bramnick got up behind the microphone to give what sounded an awful lot like a concession speech – or at least a prelude to a concession.
“We got an uphill fight because we know it’s a blue state,” said Bramnick. “Republicans always come back. It’s just a question of when. My message to Democrats is look behind you. We’re coming. We’re coming.”
By that time two networks had already called the race for incumbent Bob Menendez, though most of the party faithful in the room didn’t seem to know that. They were still sharing in a moment of euphoria stemming from an early report that Hugin was holding a 10-point lead, but with just 9 percent of the vote in.
All was not yet lost, however. Soon former state senator Diane Allen showed up. The campaign co-chair – and former TV anchor – promptly questioned the verdict from the current TV crowd.
“We’re not giving up,” she told the crowd.
The campaign was still holding out hope based on incomplete returns.
“We don’t have all the numbers, but no one else does either,” she said.
She went on to recount how Maine Senator Susan Collins was once counted out early by the networks in a race the Republican went on to win.
That was not to be the case this time. At 10:15 Hugin took the stage to give his concession.
One thing he wouldn’t concede however was the moral high ground.
“The people of New Jersey do deserve better,” he said. “The reality is that Senator Menendez is going to be our senator for the next six years.”
After a few more comments, he repeated “The people of New Jersey do deserve better.”
He certainly had a point there. Menendez had more baggage than a Samsonite store. He was indicted by the Barack Obama Justice Department on charges he accepted all sorts of free flights and travel from a Florida eye doctor whom he helped out in a Medicare dispute with the government.
Dr. Salomon Melgen is now doing 17 years in federal prison for overcharging Medicare by an astounding $73 million. Menendez escaped the rap via a hung jury, but was later censured by his Senate colleagues.
In an interview after the speech, I asked Hugin why he didn’t offer the usual compliments to his opponent.
“I’ve always lived my life with honor and integrity,” he said.
“I do hope we can raise the level of public servants. It’s not good for America. I respect Senator Menendez but I hope he will raise the level of his personal life to be something we can be proud of.”
Till then, this result looks like one of those Jersey jokes out-of-staters always seem to think are funny.
You know, the sort of “joke” where the guy says, “You’re from Joisey” and you have to tell him that nobody in Jersey calls it “Joisey.”
But when it comes to electing politicians who are better at cutting deals for themselves than their constituents, we now have to concede the point.
This Jersey joke is on us.
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