Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) may have avoided going to jail over alleged corruption, but the controversy surrounding him and the possibility of a retrial indicates that he could be one of the most vulnerable Democrats up for re-election in 2018.

(AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

But maybe not if New Jersey Republicans wind up boosting the potential candidacy of a former business executive with ties to President Trump who looks like an opposition research treasure trove even at first glance.

Meet Bob Hugin. He is the Executive Chairman of Celgene, a pharmaceutical company. He has been “floated” as a potential candidate by David Wildstein of Bridgegate and now political blogging fame. It appears that Wildstein “noticed someone had set up a Twitter account under Hugin’s name and that it was quickly followed by the Republican State Committee’s executive director.” How about that?

Hugin appears to have the backing of Chris Christie’s organization in the state (for whatever that is now worth), and also the ability to self-finance. That’s because he is a pharmaceutical executive, who banked $22 million in 2014. Axios says he made $196 million total in the seven years since Obamacare passed.

But there’s a hitch: Hugin’s company has gotten itself in a lot of trouble. Like, a whole lot.

Celgene got busted literally a couple months ago for fraudulently marketing drugs for uses not permitted by the FDA and submitting false claims to Medicare– or in plain English, basically, defrauding taxpayers, also known as the people Hugin would be asking to vote for him.

The previous year, Celgene was accused of using a charity scheme to tap into taxpayer dollars.

It appears that while all this was going on, Hugin was making bank. And making bank, thanks to Obamacare, which Republicans are supposed to revile.

Perhaps not coincidentally, Hugin is also the Chairman of the drug lobbying organization PhRMA. There are a lot of reasons why conservatives loathe PhRMA, but one is its memberships’ work to get Obamacare passed into law, and general support for Obamacare– the same Obamacare that seems to have lined Celgene’s and Hugin’s pockets. Another is PhRMA’s prior fighting for Medicare Part D, which many economic conservatives continue to abhor as a massive expansion of government under George W. Bush. That also will have lined Celgene’s and Hugin’s pockets to a massive degree.
And for those pesky Trump voters who get terribly upset about things like drug pricing, there is the fact that PhRMA has resisted basically all policy initiatives to bring down prices, whether they be prescription drug re-importation, something both Trump and even conservative stalwarts like Ted Cruz have voiced support for, or allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices with PhRMA member companies directly, or indeed keeping a small drug discount program called 340B, which benefits a lot of Trump voters, intact.
New Jersey isn’t exactly friendly territory for Republicans. Granted, with Menendez on the ballot, it looks about as primed as it’s ever been to elect a GOP senator. But you have to think the GOP would increase its chances if it ran someone without Hugin’s profile– say, a former prosecutor or other law enforcement official. Those are the kind of Republicans that tend to perform better in the blue Northeast.
Of course, the reality is that no matter how strong the New Jersey Democratic establishment’s support for Menendez looks now, when he gets opponents and starts taking fire, or if he ends up being retried, his numbers will probably weaken. And they’re already fairly weak. As Politico notes, “a recent poll showed the trial took a big toll on Menendez’s popularity, with 51 of voters saying he doesn’t deserve reelection.”
That means that like Chris Dodd in 2010, Menendez could easily end up being swapped out at the last minute for pretty much any cookie-cutter Democrat, which would move the race from potentially winnable to safe Democratic. In either event, Hugin doesn’t look like the best choice for the GOP to be running there. Losing to Menendez, a real possibility, would be embarrassing. Losing to virtually any other Democrat would probably be a dead cert.