WHIPPANY – One of Senator Bob Menendez’ TV ads accuses opponent Bob Hugin of making millions of dollars by selling high-priced drugs to cancer patients.
It’s a nasty accusation to be sure.
Hugin seems ready to strike back.
Speaking Friday morning before the Morris County Chamber of Commerce, Hugin said the drug company he once headed, Celgene, is an “American icon in the fight against cancer.”
Hugin said he was proud of how he ran the company, nothing that he put about 40 percent of company revenues back into research and development.
Drug prices over the years rose, but Hugin said the increases paled in comparison to the money that went into R&D. Hugin said he cannot think of one patient who was denied needed drugs because of their cost.
Stressing his commitment to helping people, Hugin said he often heard in-house suggestions that the company close the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day, which is common with many corporations.
But not at Celgene.
Hugin said he rejected that proposal, saying that “cancer patients don’t get days off.”
One man in the audience of about 100 was so impressed, he told Hugin he should feature those comments in his next TV commercial.
Hugin didn’t disagree.
Chambers of commerce tend to lean Republican, so Hugin spoke to a mostly receptive crowd. But there were still a few provocative questions.
One man said that Hugin’s campaign material says nothing about climate change.
“I’m a fisherman, I understand climate change,” Hugin said in response, agreeing that human activity plays a role in the changing climate. Hugin added that he backs investment into alternative forms of energy and that he called for the resignation of EPA head Scott Pruitt months before he actually resigned. Pruitt quit because of ethical transgressions, not his environmental positions. Still, Hugin is offering environmental views that are far more moderate than those of many other Republicans.
Another questioner offered some political reality. She noted that if Hugin won, he’d be a junior senator. That being the case, how would he get things done?
Hugin said things in the Senate have changed from the days when no one listened to a senator unless he was in his fifth term, or as Hugin put it, 105-years-old.
No matter, he vowed to always speak up for New Jersey in any forum that would have him.
Then there was the inevitable question about Hugin’s commitment to President Trump’s agenda.
His first response was that this is a race between him and Bob Menendez.
Elaborating a bit, Hugin said he backed some of Trump’s foreign policy moves like nullifying the nuclear deal with Iran and agreeing to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem. He also said he supported ICE and opposed so-called sanctuary cities and states.
However, Hugin also said it’s important to bring all Americans together and that he supported a “pathway to citizenship” for immigrants who are productive members of society.
In a state where a recent poll showed Trump’s approval rating at a mere 33 percent, it would seem that Republicans totally embrace the president at their own peril.