Rep. Donald Payne, Jr. has favorables of 37%-11% in his hometown of Newark, a new Fairleigh Dickinson University poll shows.
Among Democrats – the group of voters Payne needs to be most concerned about to hold his seat – the five-term congressman has favorables of 47%-8%.
New Jersey’s 10th district is among the most Democratic in the nation. Joe Biden carried the 10th by an 83%-16% margin in 2020. Just 16 districts in the U.S. gave Biden a higher percentage against Republican Donald Trump.
Payne has favorables of 48%-9% among Blacks, 23%-11% among Hispanics, and 33%-19% among Whites. A majority of Portuguese residents of Newark identified as white in the poll.
Payne does better among older Newark residents: he’s at 61%-9% among those over age 65, 49%-9% with people between the ages of 45 and 64, 27%-12% with Newarkers between the ages of 31 and 44, and 24%-10% among residents under age 30.
He’s at 39%-6% among women and 36%-13% among men. He’s at 26%-19% among independents and 19%-21% among Republicans.
The poll numbers reflect Payne’s citywide favorables, but to be clear, a significant chunk of Newark is represented by Rep. Albio Sires (D-West New York). Sires represents the North Ward, most of the East Ward, and a few districts in the Central and West Wards.
Among registered Democrats in Newark, 65% live in Payne’s district.
“Payne is a formidable candidate who’s fought off a number of challengers in the past,” said Dan Cassino, a professor of Government and Politics at Fairleigh Dickinson University and the poll director. “But he only has to look next door to the eleventh district to see how quickly that can change.”
Cassino is talking about the political fortunes of Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, the chairman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee Chairman who won a 12th term in 2016 by 19-points only to abruptly end his 2018 re-election bid after Democrat Mikie Sherrill (D-Montclair) raised over $1.2 million during the second half of 2017.
Payne has one announced primary opponent: Imani Oakley, a self-described progressive who had had multiple short-term jobs over the last few years.
“Oakley pretty clearly sees this district as being similar to the one Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was able to pick up in 2018,” said Cassino. “Incumbency normally helps candidates because it builds name recognition and favorability. If it hasn’t done that for Payne, he could be vulnerable.”
Still, it might be difficulty to run to the left of Payne. He has voted with Ocasio-Cortez 97% of the time in the current Congress and 95% of the time in 2019 and 2020, according to data assembled by ProPublica.
In the last Congress, Payne co-sponsored legislation to establish a commission to study and develop a plan for reparations.
Payne won a contested Democratic primary in 2018 with 88% of the vote.
Eugene Mazo, a Rutgers University law professor who won 7% against Payne in that race, has said in court papers that he planned to run again.
The boundaries of Payne’s district won’t be clear for another four months. U.S. Census Bureau data released on August 12 shows that the 10th district is overpopulated and Payne will need to shed about 42,000 people when new congressional districts are drawn. Population growth in Jersey City – which is partly in the 10th, and to a lesser extent Newark, is driving the changes.
He won 92% in the 2018 primary and 91% in 2014.
Payne seems to be taking 2022 seriously. He posted good fundraising numbers for the 2nd quarter of 2021, bringing in $105,165 and enhancing his cash-on-hand to $214,271.
A former Essex County Freeholder and Newark City Councilman, Payne won a 2012 special election following the death of his father, 11-term Rep. Donald M. Payne.
His father was a political icon in Newark, beginning with his election as the first African American to serve as president of the National Council of YMCAs and as an Essex County Freeholder in 1972. He represented Newark’s South Ward on the City Council for six years before becoming New Jersey’s first Black congressman in 1988.
Payne is currently the chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials.
The FDU poll was conducted between July 9 and August 11. It has a sample size of 1,100 Newark residents and a margin of error of +/- 3%.