Menendez has narrow lead over Hugin in Senate race, latest poll finds

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

With just two weeks until Election Day, incumbent U.S. Senator Robert Menendez is narrowly leading Republican challenger Bob Hugin 51 to 46 percent among likely New Jersey voters, according to the latest Rutgers-Eagleton Poll.

The poll suggested the narrow margin comes from the mark Menendez’s federal corruption trial left on his reputation, his inability to capture independent voters and a large enthusiasm gap between his likely voters and Hugin’s. More specifically:

  • Likely voters who identify as independent prefer Hugin 50 to 43 percent;
  • Menendez’s trial has “a lot” of impact on 38 percent of likely voters and 16 percent say it factors “some”;
  • Nearly 30 percent (29 percent) of Menendez voters are “very enthusiastic” to vote for him compared to 58 percent of Hugin voters who say the same.

“After his recent onslaught of attack ads against Menendez, Hugin is making this race much closer than it should be for an incumbent in a blue state,” Ashley Koning, assistant research professor and director of the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling at Rutgers University–New Brunswick, said. “But what’s most responsible for the narrow margin here is the corruption charges against Menendez that have haunted his entire re-election campaign. Mistrial or not, the charges have dampened support where Menendez needs it most – with independents and even a handful of his own base.”

Rutgers-Eagleton polled 1,006 likely voters by phone from Oct. 12-19. The sample has a margin of error of +/- 3.6 percentage points.