Bob Hugin just disproved the adage that if you tell a lie often enough people will believe it. Hugin based most of his campaign on lies about Bob Menendez’ involvement with underage prostitutes, repeated these bogus claims over and over and, in the end, Hugin was the one revealed to be an untrustworthy liar.
Jay Webber lied about Mikie Sherrill’s view of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE), then called her a liar and referred to her as “Montclair Mikie” as if it was just down the road from Hanoi and he got clobbered. Not only did Webber lie, he was called out on it by major newspapers in a state where not everyone thinks of the media as “fake news.”
Far fewer voters than they needed believed either of these guys. Bob Menendez even beat Hugin in his home town of Summit.
Hugin and Webber ran two of the dumbest campaigns I have witnessed in my 50 years of involvement in New Jersey Politics. Let’s look at some of the highlights.
Hugin ran a big drug company and profited personally to the tune of $150 million and attempted to take personal credit for the development of cancer drugs in a state were 10 of the top 20 employers are in the health care business. People knew Hugin’s claims weren’t true. He underestimated the intelligence and knowledge of his audience and tried to bring CEO attitudes to a political race. People just weren’t going to vote for this guy because he told them to.
His ads were over-the-top nasty, based on lies and such that people didn’t want their kids to see them. They backfired badly.
He is a Republican and the third rail for Republicans among their base is embracing Choice, which Hugin said he did. If you are going to say you are “pro-choice,” don’t run as a Republican; no one is going to believe you.
Hugin also said he would stand up to Trump which, again, no one believed. If you are claiming to stand up to the man you gave hundreds of thousands of dollars to, don’t run as a Republican; no one will believe you.
Both Hugin and Webber treated the New Jersey electorate as if voters have an average 7th grade education. Insulting people’s intelligence is not designed to garner votes.
Webber never made any effort to expand on his base. He blocked hundreds of comments and questions from his Facebook page, his twitter feed and his webpage, refused to answer questions about his votes as an Assemblyman, held fundraisers in secret and failed to understand the nature of “live feed” and other aspects of social media.
Webber proceeded to try to ignite his campaign by bringing in Vice President Pence. Morris is a predominately Catholic population and Evangelicals make up about 10% of worshippers.
That’s a bad fit to start with and Pence with his TV Bible thumping style and anti-LBGT activism, which matches Webber’s, didn’t draw any new voters.
Then Webber gets completely lost in his right-wing bubble and brings in Tom Cotton from Arkansas. Cotton voted against aid for victims of superstorm Sandy a half-dozen times and his presence further pushed Webber out of the mainstream. Harvard may ask for their degrees back from both of these guys.
What to do for an encore? Bring in the man who has cost New Jerseyans billions of dollars in Tax Deductions; House Speaker Paul Ryan. Yup, that will cement the deal; 11th District voters will flock to Jay’s banner.
I don’t think Webber ever had much of a chance to win. When his Legislative District 26 colleague, a fellow Republican, and the immediate past chair of the Morris County Republican Committee both refused to support him, his campaign hardly got off to a flying start. But some intelligent campaigning might have helped him make a better showing—it is a District where Republicans outnumber Democrats and he should have done better than 42% which is the usual number Democratic candidates in the 11th receive.
Had Hugin stayed anywhere near the truth about Menendez and focused on the needs of the state and his own qualifications he too would have achieved more than a 43% share of the vote.
But what Hugin and Webber both proved is that the GOP is running on empty. They had nothing to offer voters other than lies, fear and hate and they totally misjudged their audience. We are New Jerseyans; we don’t fear much; we don’t tolerate liars and the only thing we truly hate is the traffic to the shore in the summer. Oh, and the Dallas Cowboys.
Former Denville Councilman Bob Grant is a former spokesman for the City of Paterson under Mayor Martin Barnes.