A pharmaceutical executive with deep ties to Gov. Chris Christie is considering a Republican run for Senate against Democrat Bob Menendez.
Celgene Executive Chairman Bob Hugin's name was first floated by former New Jersey politics blogger and Bridgegate conspirator David Wildstein, who 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.
POLITICO confirmed that Hugin, a supporter of President Donald Trump, is considering a challenge to Menendez, whose corruption trial ended in a mistrial in November. Menendez, New Jersey's senior senator, is up for reelection this year and, while he likely faces a contested primary, has already sewn up Democratic organizational support.
The Justice Department has not yet said whether it plans to retry Menendez, who faced bribery allegations for allegedly doing official favors for friend and campaign donor Salomon Melgen. Ten of the 12 jurors said they were in favor of a not guilty verdict for Menendez. However, a recent poll showed the trial took a big toll on Menendez's popularity, with 51 of voters saying he doesn't deserve reelection.
“I think a lot of people will be behind Bob if he decides to run," said Bill Palatucci, New Jersey’s Republican national committeeman and a confidant to Christie. “I’ve spoken to Bob, in fact today. He’s very flattered that a lot of people have approached him to consider getting into the race. He’s made no decision. He’s still exploring whether or not to be a candidate.”
Hugin could potentially self-finance his campaign. According to reports, he made $22 million in 2014.
A spokesman for Celgene did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment.
Like Menendez, Hugin, a former Marine, grew up in Union City and graduated from high school there. He attended Princeton University.
“He’s making the rounds, speaking to party leaders, all in an effort to make a decision whether or not to become a candidate,” Palatucci said.
Hugin has donated more than $45,000 to state and local Republican candidates in New Jersey, according to the Election Law Enforcement Commission’s website. He's also donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to Republican candidates and committees nationally, including $100,000 to a super PAC supporting Christie’s presidential campaign. He's also donated $5,400 to New Jersey Democratic Rep. Donald Norcross, the brother of South Jersey power broker George Norcross.
In addition, Hugin was a donor to Trump and a delegate for him at the 2016 Republican National Convention.
Few companies have been more closely associated with the Christie administration than Celgene, which employs former Christie chief of staff Richard Bagger as a vice president.
Celgene was a major donor to Choose New Jersey, a nonprofit group aimed at attracting business that essentially served as a private sector extension of the Christie administration, paying for the governor’s trips to Israel and Britain. Hugin sat on its board.
Celgene was also involved in a major scandal involving the Christie administration.
The Hunterdon County Sheriff’s Office, under the leadership of former Republican Sheriff Deborah Trout, allegedly printed fake sheriff’s ID cards, including one for Celgene executive Robert Hariri, a Christie donor. A former Hunterdon County assistant prosecutor later charged in a lawsuit that Christie’s attorney general Paula Dow stepped in to quash an indictment against Trout and two of her underlings. The state eventually settled the lawsuit for $1.5 million without admitting any wrongdoing.
Few other Republicans have so far signed up to run against Menendez. One declared candidate, Richard Pezzullo, unsuccessfully sought the GOP nomination to challenge Democrat Cory Booker in 2014.