Meet the guy who New Jersey’s (remaining) GOP establishment likes to challenge Menendez

The Republican Party hasn’t won a U.S. Senate election in New Jersey since… 1972 (Clifford Case).

It’s a bad record. As bad as they come! And with a nation-wide Democrat wave potentially forming in 2018, it’s looking extremely unlikely that this year will present the GOP’s best opportunity to break its losing streak (e.g. in 2006, the last Democrat wave midterm cycle, Tom Kean Jr. lost to Bob Menendez by several points, the closest any Republican anywhere came to defeating a Democrat that cycle).

Will Bob Menendez’s weak-ish polling position and ethics troubles prove a game changer?

Again, if we’re being honest? Menendez is still a Democrat in a blue state in a blue year, so any Republican, no matter how rich or well-branded, is going to face an uphill slog.

Celgene Executive Chairman Bob Hugin is apparently more optimistic than most. In case you missed it with all of the other news in circulation, the multi-millionaire biotech industry executive is reportedly seriously considering a run for U.S. Senate. I can confirm from people in-and-around the upper echelons of the NJGOP’s remaining hierarchy that (1) the interest level is real, (2) conversations are happening, and (3) preliminary steps have been taken to explore a run (he’s got “people”). When/if a launch is coming? Or if a final decision has been made at all? TBD. We’ll know for sure when we know, but I’d bet on him running given the level of chatter.

On the affiliation front, he’s close to the universe of Chris Christie (contributing $250,000 to the outgoing governor’s super PAC). It’s an open secret that Christie right-hand man and NJGOP enforcer — Republican National Committeeman Bill Palatucci — is advising Hugin and has disclosed discussing a run with the possible candidate. Hugin is also a big Trump supporter (having served as a 2016 delegate AND a donor).

Outside of those tidbits? Few know what we’ll see and hear if/when Hugin pulls the trigger and files. We can assume he’ll do a better job at fundraising than many recent NJGOP ‘sacrificial lamb’ candidates. His precise positions on some big topics aren’t in circulation at this early stage. I’m reserving judgment until we know more about him (also keep in mind that there are other primary hopefuls, notably Rich Pezzullo of Monmouth County).

What I will say from the get-go: a hypothetical Hugin campaign had better be something new and different; 46 years of consistent Democrat victories won’t be upended by a traditional, paint-by-numbers establishment campaign of the sort we’re painfully used to seeing from wealthy New Jersey aspirants to high office. 2018 could be an opportunity to start getting some things right, and moving the party’s messaging and tactics in a more productive direction, even if victory proves elusive in the near term. 

For now? Check out some samples of Hugin talking to the media/audiences:

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