Plagued by allegations of corruption, Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) is facing a surprisingly close race against a relatively unknown opponent in what was expected to be a solidly Democratic state. On Friday, the Cook Political Report moved this race from “leans Democrat” to the “toss up” category.
How close is this race?
The RealClearPolitics average still has Menendez up by 7.7 percent, but a Rutgers-Eagleton poll conducted Oct. 12-16 had him only up by 5 points.
Menendez's Republican opponent, Bob Hugin, was not well known before the race began. However, he has been investing more than twice as much money into this race as Menendez has — $27.2 million versus only 11.8 million for Menendez, according to FEC reports.
Hugin has been campaigning as a moderate Republican, and is pro-choice, for universal background checks on gun purchasers, in favor of marijuana decriminalization, and for “comprehensive immigration reform.” He's also against sanctuary cities and for lower taxes.
President Donald Trump lost New Jersey by 14 points. New Jersey has not elected a Republican senator since Sen. Clifford P. Case in 1972.
What caused this?
Jennifer Duffy, the senior editor at the Cook Political Report, argued that Menendez was a bigger threat to himself than Hugin was. She said voters might want to send Menendez a message in the Nov. 6 midterm elections.
In 2017, Menendez was charged with accepting $60,000 from a friend named Salomon Melgen in return for political favors. These gifts allegedly started in 2006, the year Menendez was first elected, and included helping Melgen's mistresses obtain visas.
The case went to trial, where it eventually ended in a mistrial. While Menendez was never convicted of these charges, the mistrial meant that he was never declared innocent either.
This same thing almost happened in the primary
In June, Lisa McCormick, a little known newspaper publisher, managed to pull roughly 38 percent of the vote from Menendez during his primary.
Hugin won his own primary with 75 percent of the vote.