Bob Menendez, Bob Hugin fight to the finish in Senate race in New Jersey

NEWARK, New Jersey (WABC) -- Incumbent Senator Bob Menendez and Republican challenger Bob Hugin voted early on Tuesday, with both candidates acknowledging that anything can happen in such a close race.

After voting at the Harrison Community Center, Sen. Menendez said he hopes the rain holds off for New Jersey voters and chided his opponent for calling Tuesday's forecast "Republican weather."

"(Hugin) hopes it pours so people don't come out," Menendez said. "I hope it pours with votes. There's only one way to create a blue wave, and that's to get in the water and come out to vote."

Hugin was quoted Monday at a rally in GOP stronghold Ocean County commenting, "It's raining out, right? That's Republican weather."
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Anthony Johnson reports on the NJ Senate race.

Hugin focused on Menendez for most of his campaign, though, and voted Tuesday at the Lincoln-Hubbard Elementary School in Summit.

"People know a lot more about him now," Hugin said. "The people of New Jersey deserve better...I'm on the ground everywhere. Everywhere I've been, the enthusiasm couldn't be stronger. I actually think the bottom is falling out of his campaign."

Both candidates have a busy day of last minute campaigning ahead of them, crisscrossing the state.

"We will work all day today until the polls close, take no vote for granted, take no New Jerseyian for granted," Menendez said. "We know the stakes are too high. It's never mattered more. If we want to put a check and balance on the Trump administration, the only way to do it is by changing the Congress."

Menendez spent his campaign linking Hugin with President Donald Trump.

"The labels to me are less important than people committed to doing the right thing," said Hugin, who voted for Trump but vowed to be an independent voice if he wins.

Menendez survived a public corruption trial in which prosecutors charged he took lavish gifts and got campaign contributions in return for helping his friend, a Florida eye doctor, with a Medicare billing issue. The jury couldn't reach a verdict in 2017, and the government dropped the case this year.

But the case led the Senate Ethics Committee to admonish Menendez and say he brought discredit upon the chamber. Menendez has consistently denied any wrongdoing, though in the weeks before the election, he apologized to voters. He urged them to focus on his decades of public service, including his work drafting the Affordable Care Act, and return him to office.

Hugin, a wealthy former executive at drugmaker Celgene, has tapped his own funds for more than $30 million to finance TV ads to portray Menendez as corrupt. The torrent of cash has put Menendez on the defensive in a state where Democrats have over 900,000 more voters than Republicans.

A super PAC tied to Senate Democrats promised $3 million to help, and another outside group that has attacked Hugin over his firm's raising prices of a cancer drug has spent seven figures as well.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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