GOP Senate hopeful jabs Menendez, distances self from Trump

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SPRINGFIELD -

The Republican running to unseat Sen. Bob Menendez launched his campaign alluding to the Democratic New Jersey senator's dropped corruption charges and promising to stand up to President Donald Trump.

Bob Hugin served as a top executive at the New Jersey pharmaceutical company Celgene for nearly 20 years before retiring this year. He kicked off his campaign Tuesday with stops on both ends of the state.

“We can and we must do better in Washington, D.C. for all of the people in New Jersey. We need change,” Hugin said.

Hugin did not directly mention Menendez's federal corruption charges, but said the two-term senator violated the public's trust. 

“I’m embarrassed about how people think about New Jersey based on Sen. Menendez’s behavior,” said Hugin. “It’s embarrassing.”

Menendez denied wrongdoing and prosecutors dropped charges last month after a November mistrial.

Hugin said he promises to be an "independent voice" and to disagree with Trump if need be.

“If President Trump or any other Republican has an idea or view that’s bad for New Jersey, I will forcefully stand up and disagree with them,” Hugin said.

New Jersey Republicans have gathered to support Hugin. New Jersey voters haven’t elected a Republican to the U.S. Senate in more than 40 years.

A Democratic Senate Campaign Committee spokesman says Hugin will be "rubber stamp" for Trump.

Sen. Menendez’s office declined to comment.

The Associated Press wire services contributed to this report.

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