Menendez leads Hugin by 17 points in poll of N.J. voters

File photos U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez, left, is in a tough race against former Celgene head Bob Hugin.

U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez may have a sullied reputation, but New Jersey voters still favor the incumbent Democrat over former pharmaceutical executive Robert Hugin, according to a new Quinnipiac University Poll released Tuesday.

Menendez, who was tried on federal corruption charges that have since been dismissed, received 49 percent support from voters polled, compared with 32 percent who favored the Republican Hugin, the former chairman and CEO of Celgene Corp.

“New Jersey voters are sending Sen. Robert Menendez a mixed message,” Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll, said in a prepared statement. “They far prefer him — he holds a 17-point lead over Republican challenger Bob Hugin in the race for his U.S. Senate seat. But they are skeptical about his guilt or innocence regarding federal corruption charges that were dropped after a hung jury.”

The poll was split heavily along party lines, with Democrats favoring Menendez, 85 percent to 3 percent, while Republicans backed Hugin, 81-7. Independents supported Menendez by a much closer 41-36 total.

“In very blue New Jersey, the big ‘D’ next to Menendez’s name is a big asset,” Brown said.

Some 38 percent of those polled said they thought Menendez was involved in “serious wrongdoing,” after the senator’s trial in November ended in a mistrial, and federal prosecutors dismissed charges in January rather than retrying him. The poll found 20 percent said he was not involved, while 37 percent hadn’t heard enough to decide.

On the other hand, 46 percent of those polled approved of the job Menendez is doing, compared with a 39 percent disapproval rating, his best score in more than a year. His personal approval rating was only 35 percent, however, compared with a 37 percent disapproval rating.

The poll found 83 percent of voters said they don’t know enough about Hugin to form an opinion yet.

Among other results, the poll found:

  • Phil Murphy received a 44-23 percent job approval rating;
  • S. Sen. Cory Booker received a 59-31 percent job approval rating;
  • Voters support some legalization of marijuana, 59-37 percent;
  • Voters support stricter gun laws, 68-28 percent;
  • Voters support some kind of minimum wage increase, 79-19 percent.

The poll surveyed more than 1,000 New Jersey voters earlier in March. It has a margin of error of +/- 4.2 percentage points.