By Jim Ellis
May 31, 2018 — A new curious poll was released right before the Memorial Day break that suggests the New Jersey Senate race is already closing.
Since presumed Republican nominee Bob Hugin, the former chairman and CEO of the Celgene pharmaceutical corporation, has already spent $3.7 million on his campaign in conjunction with the June 5 primary, it is not particularly surprising that the margin between he and Sen. Bob Menendez (D) is getting tighter.
What appears unusual are the raw numbers from the recent Fairleigh Dickinson University survey, however. The poll (May 16-21; 856 registered New Jersey voters) looks to be sound methodologically, and the numbers reported for various approval ratings and other data points seem consistent with previously released research. The ballot test, however, raises questions because the incumbent’s support figure is so low and the undecideds high (46 percent). According to the F-D study, Sen. Menendez leads Hugin only 28-24 percent.
Despite the veteran senator seeing the federal bribery case against him fall apart and charges dismissed, his reputation has still suffered. The F-D report finds the senator’s favorability index at 33:39 percent favorable to unfavorable with only 51 percent of Democrats answering with a positive response. In comparison, the state’s junior senator, Cory Booker (D), posts a 55:27 percent ratio and a positive rating among Democratic respondents of 79 percent.
Demographically, the senator’s numbers are weak across the board. Even while leading Hugin in every category, his margins are tight and overall support figures poor. Sen. Menendez gets 27 percent among men, 29 percent from women, 27 percent with white voters, and just 30 percent from non-white voters. Even the college-educated voters, usually a strength segment for Democratic candidates, favor him only 32-24 percent.
This May poll is drastically different from published university polls in April and March. But Hugin’s strong early campaign provides at least a partial explanation. The former corporate leader is so far self-funding to the tune of $7.5 million and had raised almost $700,000 from individuals as listed in the May 16 pre-primary disclosure report.