Poll: Menendez leads by 20 points over leading GOP challenger

U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez (Julio Cortez/AP Photo)

U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez (Julio Cortez/AP Photo)

A new Monmouth University poll shows New Jersey voters aren’t holding Democratic U.S. Senator Bob Menendez’ recent legal troubles against him.

Seven months before the general election, 53 percent of registered voters say they’d vote for Menendez and 32 percent would choose his leading Republican challenger, Bob Hugin.

“We’re finding that it’s a good time to be a Democrat in a blue state in a Democratic year, even if you have baggage of having gone through a corruption trial,” said poll director Patrick Murray. “This really is all about party registration in New Jersey. I mean there’s a 15 to 17 point advantage for Democrats here.”

Fifteen percent of registered voters who prefer Menendez said they were unaware of the fact he was on trial for corruption last year. Federal prosecutors alleged Menendez traded political favors to a wealthy friend in exchange for lavish gifts and trips. But the judge declared a mistrial after the jury could not reach a verdict.

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Two months after the Justice Department filed to dismiss the charges against him, Menendez announced his reelection campaign.

“There’s a possibility they could swing over to Hugin and this race could get closer, but there’s an even bigger possibility that they could probably just not vote,” Murphy said of those voters. “When we get to November, fewer than half of the registered voters we’re polling right now will actually show up to vote.”

Hugin, a recently retired Celgene executive, is a blank slate for most voters.

“Eighty-two percent don’t have an opinion of him one way or another,” Murray said. “Just 20 percent are aware that he’s a former pharmaceutical executive. And while most say this is not going to impact their vote, we just haven’t seen the campaign roll out yet and what Menendez is going to try to make of this issue.”

Murray said Hugin might not have the campaign funds to overcome being a relative unknown.

“He’s got $8 million most of which he’s loaned himself so far,” he said. “In New Jersey’s media market that doesn’t go very far. He’s not going to be able to introduce himself to voters in any sizeable way, unless he is willing to increase the amount he’s lending himself by tenfold.”

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