Three recent polls have shown New Jersey Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez with only a slight lead over his Republican challenger. This has caused concern for New Jersey Democrats, who viewed this race as one of the safest in the country for their party.
Menendez, who has represented New Jersey in the U.S. Senate since 2006, is being challenged by Republican Bob Hugin. Hugin, 63, is a businessman who, according to FEC filings, had loaned $15.5 million to his own campaign as of June 30.
What do the polls say?
A poll by Fairleigh Dickinson University published Wednesday showed Menendez with a 6-point lead (43 percent to 37 percent) among likely voters, with a margin of error of 4.3 percent.
In the poll news release, Fairleigh Dickinson politics professor Krista Jenkins, who directed the poll, said, "There’s no denying that this is tighter than one would expect for an incumbent senator. But, as the undecided numbers show, there’s still time for either candidate to capture more support."
While other polls show Menendez with a more comfortable lead, at least two others also showed the race narrowing. A Vox Populi Communications poll showed Menendez leading 52 to 48 (a lead only slightly larger than the 3.5 percent margin of error), while another by Stockton University showed Menendez leading 45 to 43 with a margin of error of 4.25 percent.
Hugin lacks name recognition, but Menendez's public image has been plagued by recent scandals, including his corruption trial last year. The jury in that federal case became deadlocked until a mistrial was eventually declared. While this result meant that Menendez avoided a potential prison sentence, it also deprived him of an innocent verdict that could have helped his campaign.
The Fairleigh Dickinson poll showed that 53 percent of likely voters had an unfavorable view of Menendez — just 35 percent held a favorable view. In Menendez's favor, though, 17 percent of likely voters said that they had never even heard of Hugin.
Of course, this does not mean that Menendez is not still favored to win. Nate Silver's FiveThirtyEight still gives Menendez a 91.9 percent chance of winning his re-election bid.
Quinnipiac also gave Menendez a larger margin (53 to 42 percent) in a poll published Wednesday, while a CBS News poll showed Menendez leading 49 to 39 percent. The margin of error was 4.1 percent for Quinnipiac and 3.9 percent for CBS News.
Menendez won his last election by 19.5 points. Registered Democrats outnumber Republicans in New Jersey by roughly 920,000.
New Jersey has not elected a Republican senator since Sen. Clifford P. Case in 1972. Republican Jeffrey Chiesa was appointed by Republican Gov. Chris Christie in 2013 after the death of Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D), but he was never elected. Chiesa retired after Sen. Cory Booker (D) was elected that same year.
TheBlaze has reached out to the offices of Menendez and Hugin, but has yet to hear back from either.