TRENTON, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — A year to the day after a federal jury began deliberating corruption charges against him, New Jersey Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez on Tuesday fended off his wealthy Republican challenger to win re-election.
Menendez, 64, defeated Republican Bob Hugin after a grueling and often ugly campaign to win a third term.
In front of cheering supporters, Menendez called it “a victory of hope over hate, facts over fiction, inclusion over division, for hard work over ripping people off.
“I’m so proud that New Jerseyans rejected the politics of personal destruction and the false, negative salacious ads,” he added, referring to the Hugin campaign’s television ads linking him to unsubstantiated years-old allegations of liaisons with underage prostitutes that surfaced before his corruption charges.
Polls showed Hugin, 64, a former executive with drugmaker Celgene, and Menendez much closer than expected in overwhelmingly Democratic New Jersey.
Hugin tapped his deep pockets for more than $30 million and spent on TV ads attacking Menendez over the 2017 trial on charges that he helped a friend with Medicare billing in exchange for lavish gifts.
The charges were dropped this year after a mistrial. Menendez had always denied wrongdoing, but the Senate Ethics Committee admonished him and concluded that he violated the law.
He apologized to the public in a TV interview and in the race’s only debate in the weeks before the election.
In his concession speech, Hugin told supporters that he was proud that his campaign created “a new template” for Republicans by reaching out to urban areas in all corners of the state and letting people know “we represent all of New Jersey.”
“I wasn’t the right messenger to get it delivered, but we opened the door,” he said.
One of Menendez’s supporters at his victory party was Evelyn Arroyo-Maultsby, a member of the jury at his 2017 corruption trial who was excused midway through deliberations for a scheduled vacation. Arroyo-Maultsby told The Record on Tuesday night that Menendez was “a great man” and repeated her contention from after the trial that he had done nothing wrong.
Another supporter Samantha Bohr, 26, of Parsippany-Troy Hills, said she backed Menendez despite the trial.
“At the end of the day it was a hard choice, and when the good outweighs the bad, you just have to go with it,” Bohr said.
Bohr said she backed Menendez on the expectation that he will be a voice in the Senate to protect health care for Americans and work for immigration reform.
The race was particularly significant because Democrats sought to defend 26 seats, including 10 incumbents running in states that President Donald Trump won in 2016.
Nearly all New Jersey’s voters casting midterm election ballots said deciding who controls Congress played a role in their decision, according to a wide-ranging survey of the American electorate.
AP VoteCast found most said that Trump was a factor in their vote, while a majority also said the country is headed in the wrong direction.
AP VoteCast, an innovative nationwide survey of about 138,000 voters and nonvoters — including 3,800 voters and 664 nonvoters in the state of New Jersey — conducted for The Associated Press by NORC at the University of Chicago.
Menendez’s 2015 corruption indictment in which federal prosecutors charged that he accepted lavish gifts from a Florida eye doctor who is his friend in exchange for helping him with a Medicare billing issue was a central issue in the campaign. The trial ended in a mistrial in 2017, and prosecutors dropped the charges in 2018.
Hugin, though, concentrated on scandalous details in the trial, calling Menendez untrustworthy and highlighting a Senate Ethics Committee admonition letter that took him to task. The ethics panel concluded that Menendez’s actions “reflected discredit upon the Senate.”
Menendez defended himself by pointing to votes for women’s rights and on health care. He also attacked Hugin over his time at Celgene, which settled for $280 million on Hugin’s watch in 2017 over allegations it promoted cancer drugs that were not approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
The company didn’t admit liability, and Hugin points to the life-saving drugs that the company makes for cancer patients.
The race was ugly at times.
Hugin ran an ad raising unsubstantiated claims stemming from 2012 that Menendez patronized underage prostitutes as part of his friendship with the co-defendant in the 2017 trial. Menendez called them “lies.”
But the barrage of negative ads led to outside Democratic groups pouring money into the race. Senate Majority PAC, for example, said in the final weeks of the campaign that it was spending $3 million on TV ads.
President Donald Trump seemed to be a factor in the campaign. Menendez raised him as a boogeyman and said Hugin would effectively be a rubber stamp for him in Washington.
Hugin, who contributed to Trump’s campaign and appeared at the White House for a round table talk about drug prices alongside Trump, largely tried to keep his distance. He said he would be an independent voice for the state.
New Jersey has not elected a Republican to the Senate since 1972.
New Jersey voters on Tuesday also delivered two Republican-controlled seats to Democrats, with Tom Malinowski ousting Rep. Leonard Lance, and Mikie Sherrill winning in an open GOP-held seat.
Their victories mean Democrats have picked up at least two new seats in New Jersey, where other closely watched races have not yet been called.
Malinowski, a former state department official under President Barack Obama, blocked Lance from capturing a sixth term in the 7th District. Sherrill won in the 12th District over Republican Assemblyman Jay Webber after Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen announced his retirement.
Sherrill’s victory, along with Democratic incumbent Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman’s win in the 12th District means New Jersey will have two women representing it in the House for the first time since 1982, when Millicent Fenwick and Marge Roukema served briefly together.
Frelinghuysen is retiring after 12 terms.
Sherrill, who graduated from the Naval Academy and flew Sea King helicopters in the Navy, and later served as a federal prosecutor in New Jersey, has not held or sought office before.
She built a massive campaign war chest and outspent Webber.
The district has been a GOP stronghold but just narrowly voted for President Donald Trump in 2016.
In the 7th District, Democrat Hillary Clinton narrowly won in 2016 over Republican President Donald Trump.
Lance highlighted how he was different from Trump, who is mostly unpopular in New Jersey, and focused on his membership in a bipartisan caucus.
But Malinowski said Lance failed to stop fellow Republicans from enacting proposals that he and many New Jersey residents opposed, like the 2017 tax overhaul.
Sherrill campaigned on undoing the 2017 federal tax overhaul’s cap on state and local tax deductions and stressed her support for health care for everyone.
Webber ran as a conservative backer of Trump.
Watson Coleman was elected to her third term over Republican Daryl Kipnis.
Elsewhere, incumbents in New Jersey had a good night. Seven congressmen won re-election in New Jersey.
Three-term Democratic incumbent Rep. Donald Norcross defeated Republican challenger Paul Dilks in southern New Jersey’s 1st District.
Republican Chris Smith defeated Democratic Navy veteran Josh Welle to win a 20th term in central and coastal New Jersey’s 4th District.
Democrat Frank Pallone was re-elected to a 16th term against Republican Richard Pezzullo in the 6th District.
Democratic incumbent Albio Sires beat Republican John Muniz in 8th District. It will be Sires’ eighth term.
In the 10th District, Democratic Rep. Donald Payne Jr. defeated Republican Agha Khan to win a fifth term.
Nearly all of New Jersey’s voters casting midterm election ballots said deciding who controls Congress played a role in their decision, according to a wide-ranging survey of the American electorate.
(© Copyright 2018 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)
2018 Election Results
Note: Total results for all races update after election precincts officially file their returns. Reporting times vary by precinct after polls close at 8 p.m. for New Jersey and Connecticut, and 9 p.m. for New York.
New York State Senate Districts 1 to 11
New York State Senate Districts 13 to 26
New York State Senate Districts 28 to 40
New York State Senate Districts 41 to 50
New York State Assembly Districts 1 to 10
New York State Assembly Districts 11 to 20
New York State Assembly Districts 21 to 42
New York State Assembly Districts 44 to 61
New York State Assembly Districts 62 to 77
New York State Assembly Districts 78 to 87
New York State Assembly Districts 90 to 104
New York State Assembly Districts 105 to 111