Robert Menendez continues to post mediocre approval numbers and could have a difficult time in a rematch with 2006 Tom Kean Jr., PPP's newest New Jersey poll finds.
Voters in the state are pretty evenly divided on whether Menendez is doing a good job with 37% approving and 38% disapproving. Republicans are more unified in their unhappiness with Mendendez (67% disapproval) than Democrats are in their support for him (57% approval.) He also has a lot of work to do with independents, only 32% of whom currently give him good marks to 44% who say they're unhappy with him.
Despite his own less than ideal numbers, Menendez easily leads two of the people who have been discussed as possible opponents for him. He has a 47-35 advantage over TV host Lou Dobbs and an even wider 45-30 one over Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno. Dobbs' problem is that he is unpopular, sporting a 25/30 favorability breakdown. Guadagno's problem is that she is unknown- 72% of voters don't know enough about her to have formed an opinion.
Menendez would have a little more difficulty in a rematch with Tom Kean Jr., whose father PPP found in an October 2009 poll to be by far and away the state's most popular Governor of the last three decades. Menendez leads Kean, but only by a 41-39 margin, a good deal less than the 9 point victory he posted in that match up in the 2006 election. Although Kean Jr. has been quickly forgotten by voters in the state- 51% now say they have no opinion about him- the ones who do have a take rate him positively, with 31% saying they have a favorable opinion of him and 18% an unfavorable one.
Usually I'd say a Senator with a negative approval rating leading a little known challenger by only 2 points is in very, very serious trouble. But this is New Jersey and New Jersey is not like most places. Jon Corzine persistently had a disapproval number in the upper 50s, far greater than Menendez's 38%, and trailed by double digits in most polls up until the last 2 or 3 months of the campaign in 2009. For all of that in the end he lost by just 4 points. It takes a special level of unpopularity for an incumbent Democrat to lose in New Jersey and I'm not sure Menendez is there. Menendez will also be helped by the fact that Barack Obama is pretty strong in the state...it is difficult to imagine the President cruising to reelection by double digits and Menendez simultaneously losing. Nevertheless this certainly has the potential to be a competitive race and it's worth keeping an eye on.
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