NEW JERSEY (FOX5NY.COM) - Why doesn't Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., deserve another term?
"Whoa," Bob Hugin said. "I think it's amazing you could ask that question with a straight face."
That was the initial response from the Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate in New Jersey in his first interview since Tuesday's primary win.
"He's failed New Jersey, 25 years in Washington, 16 years with a Democratic president, and New Jersey is dead last—we're 50 out of 50. We get the least back of any state in the country," Hugin said. "Time's up! You failed the people, you didn't deliver for them. Time for a change."
The U.S. Senate race in New Jersey has traditionally been a reliable Democratic victory. In fact, a GOP senator hasn't been elected there since the early 1970s.
But Republicans are hoping this year is different. A recent Farleigh Dickinson University poll shows political newcomer Hugin trailing Menendez by just 4 points, with 46 percent of voters undecided.
"The battle is going to be for the middle," Hugin said. "People who are not affiliated are the ones who are going to decide this election."
The Marine Corps veteran and former pharmaceutical executive describes himself as an independent person and is running television ads declaring himself a "different kind of Republican."
"There are a lot of things I align with traditional Republicans on. But I'm pro-choice, I'm pro-marriage equality, I strongly support equal pay for equal work," Hugin said, explaining his political leanings. "I also believe I'm aligned with where New Jersey is on immigration."
And with the primaries in the rearview mirror, both candidates are now focusing on the general election and each other.
"Every campaign is a choice, but I believe the one this November is pretty clear because the stakes have never been higher," Menendez said in a video message to supporters Tuesday night.
Menendez is also going on the attack against Hugin's record as head of the drug company Celgene.
"My opponent, greedy drug company CEO Bob Hugin, is going to have to answer for his record of driving up prices for cancer patients while making millions for himself," he said in the video.
The Menendez campaign is hitting Hugin for big increases in the price of the cancer drug Revlimid, blocking generic drugs from coming to market, and Celgene's $280 million settlement with the government last year for promoting the use of certain cancer drugs in ways not approved by the FDA. His campaign is alleging Hugin made millions on the backs of cancer patients.
"The two issues that they're alleging are just political red herrings to confuse, to say 'he's unethical, he's immoral, but let's try to tar this other guy with things that are totally different,'" Hugin said. "This is just being used as a political football. There's no substance to this."
And on the flip side, Hugin called Menendez "the poster boy of abuse of the system." He is highlighting Menendez's federal corruption trial. A jury deadlocked on bribery charges before prosecutors ultimately declined to retry him.
But afterward, the bipartisan Senate Ethics Committee, in a rare move, "severely admonished" Menendez for his actions.
"We put up with a lot of stuff in New Jersey to a certain point, but we know when it's too far," Hugin said. "This has gone too far and I'm going to be the person to make that change November the 6th."