Among registered voters in the Fairleigh Dickinson University poll released Wednesday, Sen. Bob Menendez leads Bob Hugin by just 37 percent to 32 percent. Among likely voters, it’s 43 percent to 37 percent, with a margin of error of 4.3 percent.
At the mansion on FDU’s Madison campus Wednesday, poll director Krista Jenkins spoke about why she thinks the race is tight.
“Certainly it is the legacy of the trial of Sen. Menendez, that he was able to walk away from but certainly not without some degree of admonishment from his colleagues in the Senate in a bipartisan way. So I think that is certainly complicating his prospects, although I would agree that given the Democratic electorate that we have in New Jersey, things are still quite good for him,” Jenkins said.
A poll released Monday by Stockton University had the race even closer — 45 percent for Menendez and 43 percent for Hugin.
That poll was criticized by Monmouth University pollster Patrick Murray who said it undercounted 18- to 29-year-olds, blacks and Hispanics.
Menendez’s pollster Joel Benenson tweeted to the same effect, saying, “Only had 24 people aged 18-29 and 24 Latinos in sample of 578.”
But the FDU poll tends to confirm that the race is tight. One noteworthy result: 22 percent of Democrats polled are still undecided, while only 6 percent of Republicans are.
“It says Senator Menendez has some work to do within his own party. When you have, again, a fifth of the likely electorate who claim they still are unsure about whom to support despite the very real choices that are being presented to voters through the candidacies of Sen. Menendez and Bob Hugin. There still seems to be some ground to cover with people who would normally gravitate toward him, I think, without much thought,” said Jenkins.
Quinnipiac University also put out a poll Wednesday. Fifty-three percent of likely voters favor Menendez to 42 percent for Hugin. That’s a more comfortable margin for the Democrats, though they still have to worry about the other two polls.
“If you look at our numbers, I would argue that we’re still in a bit of a dead heat because once you account for the margin of error in either of the support that both men have, it’s quite slim. That said, again, we have a sizable number of more Democratic identifiers in the state than Republicans. And if research on political behavior is at all instructive in this case, we would expect people who are Democratic-leaners to eventually break for Sen. Bob Menendez when they do actually go to cast their vote,” said Jenkins.
The closeness of the Menendez-Hugin race has national implications. Democrats hoping to take control of the Senate now have to worry about — and maybe send money to — an incumbent they assumed was safe.