Poll: Menendez Leads GOP Challenger in NJ Senate Race by Mere 4 Points

Seth Wenig/AP

Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) leads likely Republican challenger Bob Hugin by just four points in a potential general election matchup for the U.S. Senate election this November in New Jersey, according to a new poll.

Fairleigh Dickinson University released a poll on May 29 that shows, among registered New Jersey voters who have made up their minds, 28 percent have said they would vote for Menendez, while 24 percent said they would vote for the likely GOP nominee, retired pharmaceutical executive Bob Hugin. A whopping 46 percent said they were undecided. The poll “was conducted by landline and cellular telephone May 16-May 21, 2018 using a random sample of registered voters in New Jersey aged 18 and older (N = 856). Results have a margin of sampling error of +/- 3.5 percentage points.”

Felony public corruption charges against Menendez were dropped by the Department of Justice in January after the case against Menendez and co-defendant Dr. Salmon Melgen, heard in a federal court in New Jersey, ended in a mistrial in November. In April, a jury in a trial held in a federal court in Florida convicted Melgen of 67 felony counts of Medicare fraud.

“Senator Menendez’s recent federal trial and bipartisan admonishment by his Senate colleagues are clearly taking their toll. It’s not uncommon for incumbents to cruise to reelection, but these numbers suggest he’s going to have to woo voters like he hasn’t had to in a long time,” Krista Jenkins, director of the poll and professor of political science at Fairleigh Dickinson University, said in a statement released with the poll.

Menendez is expected to easily defeat community newspaper publisher Lisa McCormick in Tuesday’s Democratic primary.

Hugin is favored over Brian Goldberg in Tuesday’s Republican primary. Goldberg finished in third place in the 2014 New Jersey Republican Senate primary won by Jeff Bell, who lost the general election that year by 13 points to Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), who outspent him by a wide margin.

Politico reported on Hugin’s announcement in February:

“This campaign is going to be a contrast — a stark contrast in candidates,” Hugin, 63, said at an Elks lodge in Springfield, Union County. “I have to tell you I am offended by Senator Menendez’s actions. He’s violated the public trust and, at the same time, he’s failed the people of New Jersey.” . . .

“New Jersey deserves better. I’m embarrassed about how people think about New Jersey based on Senator Menendez’s behavior,” Hugin said. “He must be and he will be held accountable by the voters this November.”

A recent Morning Consult/Politico poll showed that, despite his legal escape from the public corruption charges, Menendez remains underwater in his home state.

Should Menendez and Hugin secure the nominations of their respective parties on Tuesday, voters in New Jersey can expect to see a brutal and hard fought campaign of charges and counter charges over the next five months.

Menendez easily won re-election to a second term in 2012 by 20 points, but that was three years before his 2015 indictment on the recently dropped public corruption charges, and four years before Donald Trump won the 2016 Presidential election.

Trump lost New Jersey by 13 points to Hillary Clinton, but the GOP’s Hugin vows to make the race about Bob Menendez, not Donald Trump.

“The race is Bob Menendez versus Bob Hugin and who’s going to be better for New Jersey,” Hugin told recently.

According to the most recent report filed with the Federal Election Commission, Hugin should have enough money to mount a fierce campaign against Menendez.

As of May 16, Hugin has $4.5 million cash on hand, and has already spent $3.5 million since launching in February.

He has raised $8.1 million, $7.5 million of which is from a loan he has made to the campaign.

Menendez, in contrast, has raised $5.1 million and spent $1.1 million since January 1, 2017, but he has $5.6 million cash on hand because of a significant surplus from his previous U.S. Senate campaigns.

At least one other recent poll of the New Jersey Senate race show markedly different results from the Fairleigh Dickinson University Poll.

In April, the Monmouth University Polling Institute released a poll showing, “Among all registered voters in New Jersey, a majority of 53% say they would vote for the incumbent Menendez and 32% would choose former Celgene Executive Chairman Hugin if the election for senator was today.”

The Cook Political Report currently rates the 2018 New Jersey Senate race as “Likely Democrat.”