PRINCETON – New Jersey’s Hughes-Murphy alliance has parted company in the big party races lately, with Michael Murphy backing Barack Obama and Rob Andrews, and Brian J. Hughes standing by Hillary Clinton and Frank Lautenberg for president and U.S. Senate respectively.
Murphy and Mercer County Executive Hughes are half-brothers, whose Irish-American families joined forces with the marriage of Elizabeth Murphy to the late Richard Hughes, New Jersey’s governor from 1962 to 1970.
While he supports U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), Hughes likes and respects U.S. Rep. Rob Andrews (D-1).
"He helped me when I ran for Congress," he recalls. "I didn’t have a whole lot of friends in that election, and Rob Andrews was one of them."
Still, the U.S. senate candidate did not get in the race early enough to contend for the organizational line – vital in Mercer County as elsewhere – Hughes says. Moreover, Andrews co-sponsored the Iraq War resolution, not exactly banner-waving history in a blue state primary.
His brother, who serves as campaign chairman for Andrews, argues that his candidate possesses unique powers of reason – on display in the candidates’ two debates last week – that Lautenberg simple can’t match, in Murphy’s view.
"The U.S. Senate is the debating house, and the power of persuasion, the ability to convince others of your position, is a critically important skill," Murphy says. "I honestly think Rob Andrews as a 50-year old freshman is better prepared to serve in the Senate than an 84-year old sophomore."
(Please see the accompanying video for the full Lautenberg v. Andrews debate in Princeton between the brothers.)
The brothers’ own individual runs at higher office to this point have proved unsuccessful. Hughes went after Chris Smith’s Congressional seat in 1992, and Murphy ran for governor in 1997.
"Actually, my brother has gone 4-5 in his political career," says Murphy, reflecting on Hughes’s freeholder wins and two victories as executive. "I’m 0-1."
Already governor in 1968, their father, too, might have had a shot at standing out within a bigger political constellation, the brothers say. But instead of seeking higher office himself and losing outright, Gov. Richard Hughes came up against the hard segregationist edge of his times.
Hughes was famously close to President Lyndon Johnson, and played a leading role in the 1968 Democratic Convention as the party desperately tied to summon unity in the aftermath of Johnson’s decision not to seek re-election and the back-to-back assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bobby Kennedy.
Seeking black representation at the convention, the Mississippi Freedom Democrats and Georgia Democrats set up challenge delegations in their respective states. Julian Bond headed the Georgia delegation.
Bond was a newly elected state legislator trying to carry the King legacy into politics and coming up against the likes of Georgia Gov. Lester Maddox, who guarded his lunch counter against integration with a handgun and pick handles.
"Our father, Dick Hughes,threw outthe Mississippi delegation,split the (old guard) Georgia delegation and seated Julian Bond," recalls Murphy.
Mindful of the traditional white Southern Democrats, Texas Gov. James Connelly told Vice President Hubert Humphrey, the eventual party nominee for president, that based on what Hughes did for Bond, in no way was the New Jersey governor to be considered as a vice presidential candidate.
"In any event, he did the right thing," says Murphy.