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Sen. Bob Menendez led Democrats’ successful fight to hold the Senate majority in 2010, but polling released Wednesday suggests that the battle is not over for the New Jersey Democrat.
Menendez, who recently stepped down as chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, is statistically tied in a hypothetical race with state Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean Jr., who is a possible GOP challenger.
The survey of 520 New Jersey voters from Jan. 6 to Sunday was conducted by the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling. Menendez earned 41 percent of the vote, compared with 39 percent for Kean, with a 4.3-point margin of error.
Menendez’s lead over another potential candidate, Fox Business Network host Lou Dobbs, was larger: 47 percent to 35 percent. The incumbent also led Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, 45 percent to 30 percent.
Menendez was a House Member when he was appointed to the Senate in early 2006. He then won a full six-year term that same year in a race against Kean, who lost by 9 percentage points.
PPP pollster Tom Jensen said Menendez “continues to post mediocre approval numbers and could have a difficult time” against Kean. It’s also noteworthy that Kean’s father was the state’s most popular governor in the past three decades, according to PPP research.
Voters are split on whether Menendez is doing a good job: He earned positive job-approval ratings from 37 percent of respondents and negative reviews from 38 percent.
“Usually I’d say a Senator with a negative approval rating leading a little known challenger by only 2 points is in very, very serious trouble. But this is New Jersey and New Jersey is not like most places,” Jensen wrote on PPP’s blog.
“It takes a special level of unpopularity for an incumbent Democrat to lose in New Jersey and I’m not sure Menendez is there,” he added. “Menendez will also be helped by the fact that Barack Obama is pretty strong in the state. ... It is difficult to imagine the president cruising to reelection by double digits and Menendez simultaneously losing. Nevertheless this certainly has the potential to be a competitive race and it’s worth keeping an eye on.”