Lukewarm support for Menendez in primary likely to heat up in November, analysts say

U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez is greeted by a poll worker as he arrives at the Harrison Community Center to cast his vote in the New Jersey primary election Tuesday, June 5, 2018, in Harrison, N.J. (Julio Cortez/AP Photo)

U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez is greeted by a poll worker as he arrives at the Harrison Community Center to cast his vote in the New Jersey primary election Tuesday, June 5, 2018, in Harrison, N.J. (Julio Cortez/AP Photo)

Incumbent U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey won his primary election contest Tuesday, but his little-known opponent Lisa McCormick got a surprising 39 percent of the vote from Democrats.

Despite that poor performance, political analysts said, Menendez is likely to win re-election in November.

Much of the vote for Menendez’s challenger was a protest over his recent corruption trial that resulted in a hung jury, said Seton Hall public affairs professor Matthew Hale. The charges against Menendez were dropped.

“A number of Democrats, and I think particularly progressive Democrats, those on the left wing of the party, saw this as an opportunity to sort of send a message that this was a free vote,” Hale said. “They could vote against Menendez, and then they’ll probably come back to the fold in the general election.”

Montclair State University political science professor Brigid Harrison said she expects Menendez will defeat the Republican candidate, Bob Hugin, in November.

“Once Sen. Menendez starts spending his money and targeting Bob Hugin and airing some of the differences he has — including Mr. Hugin’s support of President Trump and his background in the pharmaceutical industry — Sen. Menendez will probably be beat up, but will still be the sitting senator,” she said.

About half of the registered voters in New Jersey are unaffiliated with a political party.

Monmouth University Polling Institute director Patrick Murray said their views about the president are likely to influence who they’ll support in the general election.

“Many of those people who are truly unaffiliated probably won’t show up to vote anyway in November. It’s those unaffiliated voters who are Democrat at heart that Bob Menendez is going to try to get out,” Murray said. “And I think, in the end, how they feel about President Trump is going to be much more important to them than how they feel about Bob Menendez.”

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