The special election for U.S. Senate is heating up on the Democratic side with the first debate with all four candidates set for tonight. Executive Director of the Fairleigh Dickinson University PublicMind Poll Krista Jenkins told NJ Today Managing Editor Mike Schneider that Cory Booker has a commanding lead over his opponents in a race that hasn’t generated much interest because of the timing.
Jenkins said Booker has a lead around 40 percentage points over his opponents Rush Holt, Sheila Oliver and Frank Pallone. “I think that’s going to make it very difficult for his opponents to do much in the way of trying to narrow that gap tonight,” she said. “They’re hoping that he does something that causes him some discomfort with the public, which, with a 40 percentage point gap, would have to be sizable — historic, actually — to do much damage to his numbers.”
According to Jenkins, personality, familiarity and name recognition are what sets the candidates apart. “I don’t see much of a big difference in the kind of issue stands that these candidates have taken,” she said.
Booker has “tremendous name recognition,” Jenkins said, with more than 1 million Twitter followers. She added that it will be difficult for the other three Democratic candidates to surge ahead since the election doesn’t have a lot of interest given its time in the middle of the summer when people are attending barbecues and going on vacations.
Turnout is a big issue in every election. Jenkins said Booker likely has an advantage in that area since he has been preparing for a campaign longer than the others. “For months we thought that he would be jumping in when Sen. Lautenberg was talking about potentially retiring. So when the moment opened, he had, I think, the support ready to go, whereas his opponents might have been thinking about it but didn’t have the organizational heft behind them that he did,” she said.
The family of the late Sen. Frank Lautenberg has endorsed Pallone in the run for Senate, but Jenkins questions the impact it will have come primary day. “It carries weight with some, but again we’re still talking about an electorate that is rather tuned out so I wonder how many people have even heard of the Lautenberg endorsement of Congressman Pallone,” she said.
Jenkins added that when Booker has fundraisers with Oprah Winfrey, it raises his profile more than an endorsement from Lautenberg’s family could right now. “This is such a unique, historic election coming at a very odd time in New Jersey politics. So I don’t want to say that Oprah would trump a Lautenberg family endorsement in all cases, but certainly in this environment it certainly goes quite a distance in elevating [Booker],” Jenkins said.
According to Jenkins, analysts don’t know how many people will head to the polls Aug. 13 for the primary. “We don’t really have anything that we can historically compare this to. So it will be rather a big surprise I think for all of us to see how many people actually turn out. I think in many ways it’s going to be a reflection of the campaign efforts of those who are involved in this race to kind of motivate their supporters and get them out,” she said.