Menendez could be in for dogfight for Senate seat: FDU poll

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

The latest polling numbers from FDU indicate Sen. Robert Menendez is struggling to gain support from his own party — and will face a considerable challenge in his attempt to win re-election over presumptive Republican nominee Bob Hugin.

In Fairleigh Dickinson University PublicMind poll numbers released Friday morning, Menendez (D-N.J.) holds just a four-point edge over Hugin, 28 percent to 24. The greatest number of respondents, 46 percent, said they remain undecided.

Menendez’s support from his own party is weak, as well, with only 53 percent saying they support him, while 42 percent say they remain undecided.

Krista Jenkins, director of the poll and professor of political science at FDU, said the results are telling.

“Sen. Menendez’s recent federal trial and bipartisan censure by his Senate colleagues are clearly taking their toll,” she said. “It’s not uncommon for incumbents to cruise to re-election, but these numbers suggest he’s going to have to woo voters like he hasn’t had to in a long time.”

While Menendez’s support among self-identified independents is weak — 68 percent said they would not know who to vote for if the election were held today — his struggles with Democrats may be more telling.

Menendez is viewed favorably by only 55 percent of Democrats, while 27 view him unfavorably.

By comparison, the spread between favorable and unfavorable for fellow New Jersey Democratic Sen. Cory Booker is 72 percent.

“The difficult numbers that Menendez faces in the head-to-heads among those with a preference at this early stage are compounded by his favorable ratings,” Jenkins said. “Around a fifth of all Democrats hold an unfavorable view of him, with almost half of independents saying the same thing.”

There is some good news for Menendez: The election is still five months away.

“It probably works to the senator’s benefit that if he was going to be censured by the Senate ethics committee, they got it over with sooner rather than later,” Jenkins said. “He has time before November to reclaim a more favorable place in the heart of his constituents.

“Both men will pick up considerably more support as the race progresses as the undecideds begin to break for the candidate who shares their partisan leanings. With New Jersey a more Democratic state, Menendez is likely to pick up more of this group than Hugin.”

This poll was a lot closer than others conducted in recent months, which gave the incumbent as much as a 21-point lead over the former Celgene Corp. executive.

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