With the midterm elections less than three weeks’ away, New Jersey’s senior senator, Bob Menendez (D), who is campaigning for a third full term, holds at least a nine-point lead over his Republican rival Bob Hugin. Indeed, Menendez could be leading by up to 12 points, according to the latest Monmouth University Poll.
“Given the national political climate and the big registration advantage enjoyed by Democrats, you might expect an incumbent senator from New Jersey to be up by 20 points. Hugin was successful in making this one competitive by hammering away at Menendez’s ethical baggage,” said Patrick Murray, director of the independent Monmouth University Polling Institute. But, he said, Menendez “has been able to fight back to get the margin into a range that is closer to the norm for New Jersey.”
Menendez, who went through an 11-week corruption trial last year (it ended in a mistrial) is viewed negatively by New Jersey voters (28 percent favorable, 45 percent unfavorable, 27 percent offer no opinion). And most voters (88 percent) are aware of the senator’s corruption trial. But, here’s the salient point: The majority of poll respondents (64 percent) said that whatever Menendez did was about the same as what other politicians get up to. Just 22 percent said Menendez’s behavior was worse than most other politicians.
Moreover, the poll found that regardless of how they feel about Menendez, voters said President Donald Trump is a bigger factor in their choice for Senate than the candidate. And, crucially among likely New Jersey voters, Trump’s job rating is negative (42 percent approve, 55 percent disapprove). So, perhaps the key finding in the poll — apart from Menendez’s lead over Hugin — is that Trump is a very important factor for 72 percent of likely voters in their Senate choice, with Trump opponents (84 percent) more likely than Trump supporters (71 percent) to feel this way.