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2018 midterm election New Jersey Senator beats Bob Hugin Class of 1967

By Zachary Shevin


Voters in the 2018 midterms gave the country varied results — and Princetonians were in the mix across the board. Texans re-elected Republican Sen. Ted Cruz ’92 for another term, and Coloradans chose Democrat Jared Polis ’96 for their next governor. Polis will be the nation’s first openly gay governor elected to office.

In New Jersey, incumbent Democrat Sen. Bob Menendez kept his Senate seat after a feisty challenge from University Trustee Bob Hugin ’76 in a race that even dredged up Hugin’s past opposition to female membership in Princeton’s eating clubs.

Princeton residents voted on races for U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, Mercer County Board of Chosen Freeholders, Princeton town council, and Princeton Board of Education.

On-campus polling stations in Carl Icahn Laboratory and the Computer Science building were open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. 

Senate:

Menendez’s win, over Hugin as well as six non-major-party candidates, secured his seat for a third term in office. At the time of publication, Menendez was ahead by nearly 10 percentage points, 53.1 percent versus 43.7 percent, with 98 percent of votes counted.

Over the summer, Hugin polled within two points of Menendez. Ultimately, as Election Day drew near, Menendez pulled ahead, leading by 15 points in one recent Quinnipiac poll. 

FiveThirtyEight’s last midterm forecast before Election Day gave Menendez a 94.6 percent chance at victory, expecting him to win 54.2 percent of votes. 

Neither candidate is a stranger to controversy. Menendez was indicted on federal corruption charges in 2015. Though those charges were dismissed in 2017 when a mistrial was declared, the Senate Ethics Committee “severely admonished” Menendez for his actions. 

Hugin’s controversies stem both from his past work with a pharmaceutical company and his time at the University. Hugin has been accused of price gouging for life-saving cancer drugs during his time as CEO of Celgene. Also, while in leadership positions at Tiger Inn, he made statements against the inclusion of gay students and women at University eating clubs. Hugin has since disavowed those statements.

In the weeks leading up to the election, the Newark-based Star-Ledger editorial board published an endorsement of Menendez entitled “Choke it down, and vote for Menendez,” which referred to the Senate race as “the most depressing choice for New Jersey voters in a generation, with two awful candidates whose most convincing argument is that the other guy is unfit to serve.” 

Paul Durst, assistant director of STEM education at the University’s Council on Science and Technology, called the Senate race “a choice between two candidates that were flawed.”

Durst voted for whom he felt aligned with his values and viewpoints, making decisions based on candidates past statements and publically stated positions.  

“I personally feel that Menendez has done a lot of good for the state, and he has the potential to do more, compared to some of the other positions that Hugin was taking, that I felt were a little more worrisome and his alignment with values that I wasn’t really excited about,” he said.

Daniel Schwartz ’19 is originally from Massachusetts but chose to register in New Jersey, where he said he feels his vote holds more weight. He put the candidates’ scandals aside when casting his vote.

“If it was the case where one of them had a huge amount of controversy and the other was totally uncontroversial, it would be different,” he said. “Because there were controversies on both sides, I chose the candidate whose policies I thought I could support more.”

The Star-Ledger editorial endorsed Menendez because he would be less likely to support President Donald Trump’s policies. Hugin donated $5,400 to the Trump campaign and $233,200 to the Republican National Committee in 2016. The debates leading up to election day revolved heavily around Trump, making the Senate race feel like a referendum on the presidency.

Cristina Hain ’21, who voted for the first time in Icahn Laboratory early Tuesday morning, said that President Donald Trump was “the main influencer” of her vote. Too young to vote in 2016, she saw the midterms as a way to register her disapproval of the presidency.

Voters Jim and Eva, parents of two who have lived in Princeton for 20 years, echoed this sentiment. 

“This is the first real chance we’ve had, as a nation, to register our approval or disapproval on [Trump’s] performance, and whether we agree with the direction he’s taking the country,” Jim said. 

“This is our opportunity to provide a check,” Eva added. “Even though we’re not voting on the president, we’re voting on folks who could provide counterbalance.”

Jim added, “We need a balance. We need some voices, some way to make sure that we don’t go too far in a radical direction that’s going to hurt a lot of people.”

“From what I’ve heard, it’s record early voting turnouts and could be record midterm election turnouts in quite some time. That seems to signify that, yes, people are viewing this as their chance to voice their views on whether they agree with what [Trump] is doing.” 

Hugin attempted to change this narrative during his opening statements at the NJTV debate, saying, “Bob Menendez is going to try to make this a debate about Donald Trump. That’s because he doesn’t want to take about anything about his record of corruption and failure. But this election is about Bob Menendez and Bob Hugin.”

The Menendez campaign clearly endorsed making the midterms about Trump, even making the WiFi password at the Menendez victory party “DumpTrump2018.”

At 10:08 a.m. on Election Day, Trump tweeted his endorsement of Hugin, concluding with “Get out and Vote for Bob.” Minutes later, the “Menendez for NJ” campaign account replied, “Thank you.”

In his victory speech, Menendez promised not to back down in his opposition to the Presidency.

Nationally, Republicans maintained control of the Senate.

House:

New Jersey’s 12th Congressional District contains 10 of Mercer County’s 12 municipalities, including the town of Princeton as well as portions of Middlesex County, Somerset County, and Union County.

In NJ-12, Democratic incumbent Bonnie Watson Coleman defeated Republican challenger Daryl Kipnis for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, capturing 68.3 percent of the vote compared to his 31.7.

Coleman served in the New Jersey General Assembly from 1998 to 2015 and was first elected to Congress in 2014.

Coleman currently serves as a member of the House of Representatives’ Homeland Security Committee and the Oversight and Government Reform Committee. She is a member of four other House subcommittees, and is a ranking member of the Transportation and Protective Security Subcommittee. She is also a co-founder of the Congressional Caucus on Black Women and Girls.

In her first two terms in Congress, she advocated for legislation related to gun safety and environmental protection. She has also written and introduced multiple pieces of legislation, including the Healthy MOM Act, the End For-Profit Prisons Act, and the SAFER Pipelines Act.

Kipnis has never served in public office, though he ran for state senate in 2017. A graduate of Rutgers University and Seton Hall Law School, he is a practicing attorney. 

Kipnis’s campaign centered around freedoms of religion and expression, preserving the right to bear arms and the individual’s right to medical freedom, and promising to fight against “excessive and unfair taxation.”

Kipnis was a pro-Israel and pro-DACA candidate. If elected, he also hoped to improve District 12’s infrastructure and introduce legislation that would ease the suffering of college students with student debt.

Prior to Election Day, FiveThirtyEight’s midterm election forecast gave Coleman a 99.9% chance at victory in NJ-12, the 84th-most Democratic district out of 435 nationally.

At a anti-Kavanaugh rally across the street from Princeton’s campus in early October, Coleman expressed her hopes to “make this state purely blue as it relates to the Congressional delegation.”

Coleman’s hope was nearly achieved, with Menendez’s Senate victory and 10 of New Jersey’s 12 House seats won by Democrats. As of publication, Republican Tom MacArthur was leading in New Jersey’s 3rd District, but the race was too close to call. Prior to this election, Republicans held five seats. Democrats Jeff Van Drew, Tom Malinowski, and Mikie Sherrill flipped formerly Republican-held seats in Districts 2, 7, and 11.

Kipnis says that, though unhappy with the results, he is proud to have been a part of this election and feels that his campaign gave a great effort. 

“I’m proud to have done my part. I’ve stood up for what I believe in, I put myself out there to be a friend to everyone regardless of party affiliation,” he said in an interview with The Daily Princetonian. “Maybe I’ll get that chance again someday, maybe not, but I’m proud to have done what I did.”

Kipnis blamed his election loss on Coleman’s advantage of incumbency coupled with “partisan gerrymandering” in New Jersey.

“The district was drawn in such a way that favors the Democrats so heavily that it makes it an extremely difficult, uphill battle for anyone who is not a Democrat to challenge for a seat,” he said. “As long as there’s partisan gerrymandering in the country, it really hurts people getting their say, because you end up with someone who goes to one extreme. Not everybody in the district believes the district ought to be run one way, and you can end up electing somebody who will only do things one way.”

Coleman did not respond to requests for comment. 

Nationally, Democrats took control of the House.

Local:

Mercer County’s Board of Chosen Freeholders, the county government’s legislative branch made up of seven part-time legislators, held elections for four positions this year.

Mercer County voters elected incumbent Democrats Ann Cannon, Pasquale “Pat” Colavita, and Samuel Frisby Sr. to three-year terms on the Board of Chosen Freeholders.

Incumbent Democrat Nina D. Melker ran unopposed to serve the remaining year of Anthony Verrelli’s term, who vacated his position to serve in the New Jersey General Assembly.

Republican challengers Michael Silvestri, Mary R. Walker, and Cynthia Larsen hoped to turn the Democrat-controlled Board into a check on the power of the Mercer County Executive.

On a national scale, many voters have called for a balance on the executive branch, but one-party rule is nothing new for Mercer County.

“Usually, it’s a sweep, or it’s close to a sweep of one party, and yet on the national level we’re talking about a balance,” said voter Jim. “It’s a conundrum of sorts because I think if we had our way, we would have all Democrats in Congress as well.”

Three candidates ran for two vacancies on Princeton’s town council. Democrats Dwaine Williamson and Eve Niedergang GS ’85 defeated Republican challenger Lishian “Lisa” Wu for the spot on the council.

Niedergang, who received her master’s degree in Middle Eastern history from the University, expects her experience with the University to help her govern the town because, in her words, “Princeton University makes the town what it is.”

“I’m really excited to be given this opportunity to give back to a place that I’ve been for 30 years,” Baglio said, adding that she is concerned for the lack of graduate student housing.

Wu was the first Republican in three years to run for a seat on the council. She did not respond to requests for comment.

Five candidates ran for three positions on the Princeton Public Schools Board of Education.

The school board election was important to many Princeton residents, including voter Eva.

“I want to make sure we have people who are forward-thinking — people who want to work together and use reason, and not emotion — to bring about the improvements that we need in our Princeton schools,” she said.

As of publication, the school board election had only unofficial results, which do not include any mail-in ballots. The University’s former vice president of development Brian J. McDonald ’83 led in votes, followed by Daniel J. Dart and Elizabeth “Betsy” A. Kalber Baglio ’96. 

“I’m glad to be in the lead at this point,” McDonald said, adding that he wants to ensure that Princeton Public Schools are excellent for every single child.

McDonald, Dart, and Baglio have received 3895, 3611, and 3303 votes respectively. Following closely behind are candidates Dafna Kendal and Mary Clurman, with 3207 and 3157 votes respectively.

Other:

Also on the ballot was the Securing Our Children’s Future Bond Act. 

The bipartisan legislation, sponsored by state senators Steven Oroho and Stephen Sweeney, was approved by the New Jersey Senate in August, pending voter approval. The Act, upon its approval, would allow the state to create $500 million in debt to fund increases in program capacity of county-run career and technical education programs, school security upgrades, and water infrastructure improvement projects.

The Act was approved, with 52 percent of voters in favor of the Act.

Nelson Dimpter ’22 voted “no” on approving the Act. 

“The fact of the matter is that New Jersey has a lot of debt, very high taxes, and we pay a lot of money already to our municipalities,” he said. “Our property taxes, which go to the schools, are incredibly high, and they’re not doing anything with that.”

Dimpter said he does not see the $500 million being effectively used.

“Taxes are already high, and if they can’t do it with our tax revenue, they’re not going to be able to do it with a lump-sum of cash,” he said.

This story has been corrected to indicate that Jared Polis ’96 will be the first openly gay governor to be elected to office, not the first openly gay governor. The ‘Prince’ regrets the error.

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