Politics

Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez Solidifies Lead in New Jersey Race

September polls showed a tight race, but incumbent has opened sizable lead over GOP challenger Bob Hugin

Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey appeared to widen his lead over Republican nominee Bob Hugin in a new poll. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez appears to be solidifying his lead over businessman and Republican nominee Bob Hugin, according to a new Monmouth University poll that found the Democratic incumbent leading Hugin by 9 points in a standard midterm voter model.

Nearly half, 49 percent, of the 527 likely New Jersey voters surveyed for the poll released Thursday favored Menendez, while Hugin captured just 40 percent support.

The incumbent’s lead expanded to 12 points, 51 to 39 percent, in a statistical model that factored in low turnout and 11 points in a model taking into account a possible surge in turnout in more Democratic areas of the state.

Menendez’s lead is still narrower than some pollsters might expect for a New Jersey Senate race, but it should be enough to lift him to a third term.

“Given the national political climate and the big registration advantage enjoyed by Democrats, you might expect an incumbent senator from New Jersey to be up by 20 points,” Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute, said in a statement.

“Hugin was successful in making this one competitive by hammering away at Menendez’s ethical baggage,” Murray said. “But the incumbent has been able to fight back to get the margin into a range that is closer to the norm for New Jersey.”

The Senate Ethics Committee issued a scathing rebuke to Menendez in April for accepting gifts from longtime friend and Florida ophthalmologist Salomon Melgen in exchange for political favors.

The Justice Department filed to dismiss charges against Menendez last winter after an 11-week trial ended in a hung jury in the fall.

Melgen was convicted for defrauding Medicare to the tune of millions of dollars.

Hugin has sought to make Menendez’s ethical challenges and ties to Melgen a central part of his campaign pitch.

The Democrat-aligned Senate Majority PAC this week announced that it dropped a $3 million TV ad buy to boost Menendez after some polling in September showed his lead over Hugin dwindling.

One poll had Hugin within 2 points and another had him within 6 midway through September.

But Menendez appears to have rebounded.

 “I bet the Democrat’s Senate Majority PAC wishes it could take back the $3 million being spent in New Jersey right now,” Murray said.

Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the New Jersey Senate race Likely Democratic.

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