U.S. Senate candidate Bob Hugin makes a point during speech before the Ocean City Republican Club’s kick-off event Tuesday night at the Flanders Hotel. By Tim KellyThe Ocean City Republican Club’s fall kick-off event Tuesday night at the Flanders Hotel had the feel of an old-time campaign rally, and United States Senate candidate Bob Hugin eagerly reaped the benefits.Hugin, the GOP candidate challenging longtime Senator Bob Menendez, seemed right at home in the packed ballroom of the Flanders Hotel.“My grandparents had a place in Tuckahoe, and I have special memories of coming here in the 50s and 60s,” Hugin said. “Through the hard work of your Mayor and Council, Board of Education and all of the people, you aren’t just sustaining things here, you’re enhancing them.“You are all blessed to be part of Ocean City, don’t ever take it for granted.”Hugin stressed the importance of getting out the vote in his quest to unseat Menendez, the subject of a 14-count federal indictment, whose 11-week corruption trial ended in a hung jury.Hugin’s campaign staff distributed a four-page public letter of admonition sent to Menendez from the Senate’s Select Committee on Ethics. The letter outlined a laundry list of Senate Rules violations, and those of federal law stemming from the acceptance of impermissible gifts including travel on private flights, not disclosing the gifts as required and using the power of his office to advocate for his friend Dr. Salomen Melgen, convicted on his own 67-count indictment.“New Jersey deserves better,” Hugin said. “We shouldn’t have one of our senior elected officials running to stay one step ahead of the law.”Mayor Jay Gillian and Freeholder Len Desiderio showed their mutual admiration.Sea Isle City Mayor Len Desiderio, who is running for re-election to the Cape May County Board of Chosen Freeholders, introduced Hugin, and was even more blunt.“Our current U.S. Senator is an embarrassment and a disgrace. New Jersey has been the butt of too many jokes for too many years. We can’t return a man to office who was indicted on 14 counts and who has been involved in corruption for decades.”The event also supported Desiderio’s re-election bid and Seth Grossman, who is running for the Congressional seat currently held by longtime Representative Frank LoBiondo.While the attacks on Menendez were a focal point of the speeches, there was also plenty of praise for Hugin as a person and a leader.The native of Union City, Hudson County, Hugin was characterized as the embodiment of the American dream. The first in his family to attend college, Hugin received a full scholarship to Princeton University and then served in the U.S. Marine Corps, where he was an active duty infantry officer from 1976 to 1983, participating in numerous deployments.For the past 19 years he was a leader in healthcare as Chairman and CEO of Celgene Corporation and Trustee of the Atlantic Health System for the last 10 years. Under his leadership, the company grew into one of New Jersey’s largest private sector employers, a biotech firm known for its research against cancer and other chronic diseases.“We have a golden opportunity in New Jersey to elect our first Republican U.S. Senator since 1972,” Desiderio said. “Bob Menendez has been to Cape May County exactly once in 12 years. Bob Hugin knows where Ocean City is. He comes here all the time.”Hugin noted the differences in issues that are important to South Jersey. “It’s a diverse state geographically and in what is important to the residents of each area. North Jersey has two-thirds of the state’s population. But that doesn’t make anyone’s issues any more or less important than anyone else’s. I am going to represent you, not corporations and not special interests.”Hugin again hammered one of his main campaign themes: how New Jersey ranks among the lowest states in the nation for getting back services in exchange for its federal tax dollars.“If we ranked first, we could wipe out the property tax in New Jersey,” he said. “If we ranked 25th…right in the middle…we could reduce our property tax (one of the highest in the country) by 60 percent,” he said.Although currently ahead in the polls, “if the election were held tomorrow, I’d win,” Hugin said. He acknowledged the difficulty in winning a statewide election where there are 911,000 more registered Democrat voters than Republicans. “It’s like starting out the election 15 (percentage) points behind.”The Flanders Ballroom was packet with supporters.But even staring at such grim mathematics didn’t faze this crowd. “Ocean City needs to do what Ocean City does best,” said Desiderio. “This is why I call it the People’s Republic of Ocean City. You aren’t going to let anything stop you from getting what’s best for Ocean City.”Hugin backed up that thought.“This is why getting out the vote is so important,” he said. “Talk to your friends and your neighbors. Tell them to get out for the good of the entire state. If we can get the vote out, we can make it happen.”Hugin expressed outrage at some of the attack ads and comments made by Menendez in recent days and promised retaliation.“For every time they say something negative about us, we are going to punch him in the nose five times.”“You don’t even know the worst things (Menendez) has done,” Hugin said. “But don’t worry. You will know in October,” he said to laughs, followed by thundering applause.Marlene Sheppard with Carol Heenan and husband Erik Wakabayashi.Event emcee Gary Jessel thanked the sponsors and host committee members who made the event possible: Cape GOP Chair Marc Karavan, Ocean City Mayor Jay Gillian and wife Michele Gillian, Freeholders Marie Hayes and Jerry Thornton, Freeholder Desiderio and wife Carmella, and Councilman Tony Wilson and wife Melissa.Also, Councilman Keith Hartzel, Jessel’s wife Denise, Carol Heenan and husband Erik Wakabayashi, Aimee and Jim Schultz, Michael Allegretto Jr. and wife Lisa, Scott and Janie Halliday, Joe and Babs Stefano, Brian Broadley, and Jon Batastini.Members of the Ocean City Rebublican Club, City Council and Cape GOP rally around U.S. Senate Candidate Bob Hugin (second from left).