Football on TV? Pumpkin spice back? Must be campaign season
TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — It’s the unofficial end of summer. Cafes are pushing pumpkin-spice treats. Football is back on TV. And the fall campaign season is kicking off.
But in New Jersey, contests this year in the U.S. Senate campaign and 12 U.S. House races have been underway for months, complete with sharply worded TV ads and millions of dollars in campaign contributions.
The ads and political attacks are only expected to pick up steam and frequency in coming weeks.
The contests are part of a bigger national campaign that has Republicans on the defensive over their House majority, though with friendlier political terrain in the Senate races.
At stake for Republican President Donald Trump is control of both chambers of Congress.
Democrats are hopeful New Jersey will go a long way in helping them capture a U.S. House majority and hold — or possibly expand — their ground in the U.S. Senate.
A closer look at what voters can expect this campaign season in what are emerging as top contests:
Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez and Republican challenger Bob Hugin, a former biotech executive, are locked in a visceral, tightening contest at the top of New Jersey’s midterm ballot.
Menendez is favored in polls, but Hugin has closed the gap from double to single digits after a months-long advertising barrage. Menendez has recently begun airing ads.
The ads have been fierce.
Hugin calls Menendez corrupt, citing the dismissed federal corruption indictment against him and a Senate ethics committee admonition letter that stemmed from the same case. Menendez whacks Hugin as greedy for his time as CEO of Celgene, the biotech company that makes cancer drug Revlimid, whose price has steadily risen since its debut more than a decade ago.
The contest has big implications because Democrats can hardly afford to lose a seat they control in a state where they have a 900,000-voter advantage over Republicans. The race also comes in a year when Democrats are on the defensive in states that President Donald Trump won.
Menendez is seeking his third term and promises oversight of the Trump administration if re-elected along with touting his efforts to secure Superstorm Sandy funding and enact the Affordable Care Act. Hugin, a Marine veteran, has never sought or held office before and says he would be an independent Republican.
Democrats are optimistic they’ll pick up a handful of New Jersey’s 12 U.S. House seats. They already control seven, while the GOP holds five.
Democratic state Sen. Jeff Van Drew is in strong shape in the south Jersey-based 2nd District against Republican attorney Seth Grossman, according to analysts. They’re competing in the seat that Republican Frank LoBiondo is giving up after 12 terms.
Democrat Mikie Sherrill, a former Navy pilot and federal prosecutor, is taking on GOP Assemblyman Jay Webber in the 11th District, which centers on Morris County but includes parts of Essex, Passaic and Sussex counties. Republican Rodney Frelinghuysen’s retirement there has opened up what Democrats think is a pickup opportunity.
Also being watched closely for potential flips are the 3rd District, where Republican Rep. Tom MacArthur faces former Obama administration national security aide Andy Kim, and the 7th District, where incumbent Republican Leonard Lance faces former Obama administration State Department official Tom Malinowski.
Navy veteran Josh Welle, a Democrat, faces 19-term Republican Chris Smith in the 4th District, but his chances are viewed as longer.
Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy and the Democrat-led Legislature agreed on a public question that voters are expected to weigh on this year. Voters will be asked to decide whether to approve $500 million in new bonds for county college and vocation schools, as well as security and infrastructure.
Around Trenton, Murphy and lawmakers say they expect this fall to center on proposals to legalize recreational marijuana, with legislation undergoing revisions behind the scenes.
Murphy and lawmakers have also said they plan to tackle legislation to boost the minimum wage to $15 an hour, from $8.60. Though there’s disagreement over how to specifically raise the wage, including over how it could affect tipped and seasonal workers.