Bob Menendez and Bob Hugin are locked in a close race for New Jersey’s United States Senate seat — 43%-37%, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released today. But Hugin, a self-funding pharmaceutical company CEO who has already spent an estimated $10 million so far, is actually no stronger than the last four Republican Senate candidates were at a similar point in the campaign.
Four years ago, an August 6, 2014 Quinnipiac poll showed incumbent Cory Booker with a 10-point lead 47%-37% over Republican Jeff Bell. So Bell, who spent virtually no money and was just about completely unknown (16%-5% favorables) was exactly where Hugin is right now.”
A September 24, 2013 Quinnipiac poll taken a month after the special primary for Frank Lautenberg’s U.S. Senate seat, Booker led former Bogota Mayor Steve Lonegan 53%-41%.
When Menendez last ran six years ago, a September 6, 2012 Quinnipiac poll had him up by ten points, a 50%-40% lead over State Sen. Joseph Kyrillos.
Ten years ago, in Lautenberg’s final campaign, an August 12, 2008 Quinnipiac poll had him leading former Rep. Dick Zimmer by just seven points, 48%-41%.
Kyrillos and Zimmer had barely spent any money up to that point, and the Democratic incumbents had not yet gone up with TV ads — although Lautenberg had faced a serious primary challenge from Rep. Rob Andrews.
Hugin’ favorables are at 24%-20%, with 54% of voters still unaware of who he is. Kyrillos’ statewide favorables were 23%-10%, and Zimmer, who had run statewide in 1996, was at 2%%-12%.
The big difference for Menendez is his own showing in the polls. He is running seven percentage points behind where he was roughly at the same point in 2012. The good news for the two-term Senator is that his 43% is not far behind Booker’s 48% in 2014 and Lautenberg’s 48% in 2008.
Last year, a September 13, 2017 Quinnipiac poll on the race for governor had Phil Murphy with a 58%-33% lead over Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno. Stating the obvious here: Murphy was 15 points ahead of where Menendez is now, but Guadagno was just four points behind Hugin’s current status.
The bad news for Hugin in these comparisons: Republicans have not won a U.S. Senate race in New Jersey since 1972, despite polls in eight different elections that showed the GOP candidate in striking distance.
New Jersey has 897,301 more Democrats than Republicans: 2,148,565 to 1,251,264. The state gained 382,166 new Democrats since November 2009, when Republican Chris Christie was elected governor. 40.9% of New Jersey voters are unaffiliated with any party – outsiders call them Independents. In November 2001, when Republicans last had a governor and majorities in both houses of the Legislature, that number was 54.9%. Democrats had a 25.3%-19.5% edge in voter registration; today it’s 38.8% Democratic, 21.5% Republican.